Back on track

After our serene stay in the monastery in Macedonia we cycled up the mountain to the reach the (very quiet) border crossing to Bulgaria. That road took us downhill to Blagoëvgrad and from there we took the northern direction, as we are on our way home.

In a previous blog post we wrote about the fact that it’s strange not to have a set goal – and therefore route – anymore. After Tirana we knew which countries we would cycle through to reach Fryslân again, but we didn’t know exactly how to go through these countries. We can now say that we do have a first goal again, which is Arad in Romania. There, Ydwine knows some of her minority friends (the German minority) which we shall visit. After that we have to find a new goal and route through Hungary and then Slovakia.

To cycle back after we have reached our goal of Albania, which we looked forward so much, it is not only strange, it also feels like we cannot handle the negative things as well as before. Therefore, maybe ‘Murphy’s Macedonia’(a previous blogpost) was bound to happen to us, and Bulgaria didn’t bring the change we had hoped for either. On top of this, there weren’t (m)any Warmshower people in these countries, so we missed the opportunity to meet with local cyclists who could give us some much needed interaction and good advice.

We would have liked to say we had chosen a nice route through Bulgaria, but after Blagoëvgrad the tarmac grew worse and worse, and so did the traffic. In general, the drivers we have met (of course there were some exceptions, thank goodness) are not very considerate, to use an understatement. It’s hard to steer around a pothole and not to bang through a second one, when you also have to deal with the traffic whizzing past you at full speed with a minimum distance. We did search for minor roads, but most of the time there just wasn’t an alternative. Above that, the roads were surprisingly long and straight, which makes it appealing for drivers to go even faster. And if the condition of the roads wasn’t enough to deal with, we had quite a few showers, with buckets full of water pouring down without much warning ahead.

798 - Usoyka (BG)

What didn’t make the  cycling easier was that for us, there was an evident difference between the people in Bulgaria and the other Balkan countries. Where before we were constantly greeting and waving, Bulgarians gave us a cold shower on top of all the rain.  Many people just stared, and only few of them greeted back when we said hello. Luckily again there were exceptions, but nevertheless we missed the openheartedness which we had grown so used to.

However, just like Macedonia, we ended on a high note and we picked up our spirits in the final two days. Maybe the behaviour we have seen before was mostly due to a snub “capital attitude” we can see in many countries, as we were indeed cycling in the direction of Sofia. With Sofia far behind us, we finally sensed a difference. The first major turning point was when we cycled through two Roma villages, when suddenly music blasted over the streets on Sunday morning and people in the streets shouted ciao, waved and laughed at us silly cyclists. We were also very happy to see that we had reached a part of Bulgaria where people finally weren’t speeding, as many people were riding horse and carriage – and the cars had to slowly drive behind them. It was striking to see however that the main (and only) road to the city of Vidin was open for any traffic – including slow cyclists like us – but not for horse and carriage. A very specific measurement to say the least, and again not the friendliest side of Bulgaria we have seen.

831 - Novo Selo (BG)

The Roma villages were the onset of what the region was next on our way. Suddenly, we passed village after village with people who didn’t just stare, but smiled and waved or greeted us when we passed by. The last town we were just before crossing the Serbian border, Bregovo, was bustling with life on the main square and streets around. While we enjoyed some ice cream which we had bought with our last Lev, people came by to chat or just greet. This last day full of these encounters made up for so many of the staring people, non-greeters and dangerous car drivers which had set the Bulgarian image for us so far.

832 - Bregovo (BG)

We were cycling to Serbia simply because we could. We were nearby, had no fixed plan to cycle and therefore we chose to grab the opportunity to visit yet another country, albeit for a short time. And what a wonderful unexpected time it was. We spent the night at a small campsite next to the Danube, St. Mokanjac where we happened to be the only guests for the night. The owner heartily welcomed us with homemade schnapps. It was very tasty, but strong liquor after a long day on the saddle can have quite the impact, so we were a bit tipsy when we pitched our tent. But we weren’t tipsy enough to sleep through the dogs on the campsite, barking and running around our tent throughout the night. We were wondering what had set the dogs off, but the next morning during an offered cup of coffee for the broken night the owner told us that there had been a jackal lurking nearby (and we thought that we had been smart not to wild camp as to avoid animals around our tent).

838 - St. Mokranjac (SRB)

That day we chose to do a scenic route on smaller paths/roads above a straight forward one, and again we were happy to do so. We had a break in a small village, sat at a bench in the shade. Immediately a man came out of his house and tried to make a small talk, though we cannot say much in our best Serbian. He gave us a bottle of cool water and when he saw us eating a tomato, he went back to his house and gave us two tomatoes from his own garden. We ‘hvala’ed’ him very much before we continued our route on unpaved roads (chosen to avoid traffic). People waved and smiled, and they were probably wondering why we had ventured off the main road and through their villages. The roads were bad, but the scenery was really nice, as we have experienced so often before. The short break to Serbia did wonders to us, and we enjoyed our choice to cycle this way.

846 - Manastiritsa (SRB)

But it’s not only ourselves planning our route with our navigation app, as coincidence has been part of our trip too. Right after the border crossing to Romania, we decided to have a break and because of this we met many cyclists, as it was rush hour there for cyclists biking along the Danube. Among them was a group of five (three from French and a Romanian/German couple), who had teamed up as they were going the same direction. We exchanged some experiences and since they came from the way we were heading to, they provided us with some advice about our route. The next city was Orsova, and after that we thought of heading north straight to Arad, but they strongly discouraged us to do that. ‘Follow the Danube a bit further, it’s longer, but there is less traffic and it’s very scenic.’ This chat of five minutes changed our route for the coming days. And they were absolutely right that the route was terrific. Above that, the fourteen kilometres from the border crossing to Orsova was the most dangerous piece of road we have cycled on this trip and seeing that the road to Arad would be more or less the same, we are very thankful to them that they suggested not to do that.

853 - Dubova (RO)

All in all, our lack of a specific goal and route has given us some disadvantages right after Albania, as it was more difficult for us to persevere when things got rough or when weather and people got colder. Luckily, it has also given us the opportunity to venture out and promptly change plans, which has lead us to visit Serbia and follow the Danube for a week, which have both been two great decisions. Above that, we are slowly picking up goals again, such as our visit to Arad, and the map with Warmshower cyclists is becoming more crowded again. Therefore, we now really hope we have shaken off the negativity of not having a set route and goal, as we are taking it bit by bit.

836 - Dusanovats (SRB)


Armânlu nu Cheari

Us doel wie om nei en troch de Balkan te fytsen. Wylst wy dit stik skriuwe, sjogge wy al it Balkan-geberchte foar ús lizzen dêr’t wy meikoarten oerhinne moatte om dêrnei it skiereilân benefter ús te litten. Yn dy brûzjende lannen binne in soad minderheden en net allinnich fanwegen de turbulinte skiednis fan ferskowende grinzen en it foarmjen fan naasjesteaten. De Vlach, of Aroemenen of Armãn, binne ien fan harren as in ferspraat (dy’t dus net yn ien spesifike regio wenje) ‘non-kinstate’ minderheid (dat is in minderheid dy’t net in lân earne oars hat, lykas bygelyks de Sloveenske minderheid yn Italië of de Serviërs yn Kroäsië, dêr’t wy earder oer skreaun hawwe). Dy Aroemeenske minderheid fynt men oeral op it skiereilân, en sa’t dat giet yn ’e Balkan binne der mannich opfettings oer wa’t hja binne: ‘Hja komme út Grikelân.’ ‘Nee, se minne in Roemeenske minderheid.’ No, ien ding is wis en dat is dat hja lju út ’e Balkan binne. Yn Tirana hawwe wy freonen moete dy’t Vlach út Albanië binne om mear oer harren te witten te kommen.

To cycle to and through the Balkans was our ultimate goal for this trip. While writing this, we are already overlooking the Balkan mountains which we will pass through soon enough, leaving the peninsula behind. Here, in these vibrant countries are many minorities, and not only because of the turbulent history of shifting borders and shaping nation states. The Vlachs, or Aromanians or Armãn, are one of them as a dispersed (not living in one specific region) non-kinstate minorities (that is, a minority that does not have a nation somewhere else unlike for example the Slovene minority in Italy or the Serbs in Croatia which we previously wrote about). This minority can be found throughout the peninsula, and true Balkan style there are many different claims of who they are: “They are from Greece.” “No, they are a Romanian minority.” Well, one thing is for sure: they are a people from the Balkan. In Tirana, we met with friends who are Vlach from Albania to learn more.

626 - Moskopolje (AL)

The Armans will never be lost / De Aroemenen sille nea ferdwine

De Vlachen hawwe – netstsjinsteande it feit dat hja oer de hiele Balkan te finen binne – ien ding mien, nammentlik it Aroemeensk, in Romaanske taal. De Vlach binne yn 2017 in erkende nasjonale minderheid yn Albanië wurden en dat hat de doarren iepen foar guon aktiviteiten. Sa wurdt bygelyks it deistige nijs hjoed-de-dei ek yn de Aroemeenske taal útstjoerd, ek al is it yn in gearfette foarm fan fiif minuten. De erkenning en sa’n útstjoering stipet net allinnich de Vlach-minderheid, mar it is ek in motivaasje foar mear ûnderwiis.

Though the Vlachs are spread throughout the Balkans, they all have one thing in common, namely Aromanian, a Romance language. The Vlach became a recognised national minority in Albania in 2017, which makes several activities possible. For example, the daily news is now broadcasted in the Aromanian language too, albeit in a compressed form of five minutes. The recognition and such a broadcasting is not only a support for the Vlach minority, it is also a motivation to more education.

It mei sa wêze dat de taal it wichtichste skaaimerk is fan ’e minderheid, dat betsjut noch net dat elke Vlach yn Albanië it ek praat. Lykas mei alle taalminderheden jout net elke âlder de taal troch oan harren neiteam en ûnderwiis kin gjin sprekken lije. Us freonen binne dêr in sprekkend foarbyld fan, mei’t ien fan harren de taal aktyf fan hûs út leard hat, wylst de oare it ferstiet, mar it net floeiend praat. It oerbringen fan ’e taal luts yn it bysûnder in swiere sile ûnder it kommunistyske rezjym fan Albanië (1946-1992), doe’t allinnich mar Albaneesk praten wurde mocht. Njonken it oerbringen fan de taal fan de famylje ûntbrekt it ek oan ûnderwiis, om’t der gjin strukturele skoalprogramma’s foar Vlach-bern binne yn it basis- en fuortset ûnderwiis. Der binne lokkigernôch guon inisjativen en dit jier waard de earste universiteitskursus yn Albanië jûn. Minsken koenen de lessen foar in lytse bydrage folgje en de earste diploma’s foar dyjingen dy’t it eksamen helle hawwe wurde fan ’t simmer oerlange.

Though the language is a main feature of the minority, not every Vlach in Albania can speak it. Like many minority languages, not every parent passes the language on to their children and education is lacking. Our friends are a good example, as one of them grew up speaking the language while the other understands, but cannot speak it fluently. The passing on of the language was particularly under threat during the communist regime of Albania (1946-1992), when Albanian only should be spoken. Besides the passing on of the family language, education is lacking as there are no structural educational programs for Vlach children in primary or secondary school. There are some initiatives however, and only this year the first ever university course was given in Albania. People could attend the classes for a small fee and the first certificates for those who passed their exam will be handed out this summer.

Nettsjinsteande it feit dat de minderheid wiidferspraat is, binne der wol doarpen en stêden dy’t as Vlach-bolwurken sjoen wurde kinne. Us freonen namen ús mei (yn ’e auto, net mei de fyts) nei twa fan dy plakken: Moscopole en Korçë. De earste, Moscopole (Voskopojë yn it Albaneensk), wie yn earder tiden in grutte Aroemeenske stêd (ien fan de grutsten yn ’e hiele Balkan), woltierich mei syn eigen Akademy en de earste printerij yn Albanië. Hjoed-de-dei is der lykwols net folle mear oer as in foech doarp mei’t de stêd oant trije (!) kear ta ferwoastige is. Dat jout net wei dat it in geweldich plak is om oer de strjitten mei balstiennen te rinnen en ferskate tsjerken en kleaster te besjen. Der binne oeral ynformaasjebuorden, mar as gewoane toerist soest neat oer de Vlach-skiednis lêze. Alle ferneamde minsken, allegearre Vlach, binne beskreaun as Albanezen. Lokkigernôch seach ús freondinne gauwernôch harren Vlach-nammen en koe sy ús fan ynformaasje foarsjen, sadat wy it folslein multykulturele plaatsje fan de stêd krigen. De buorden wienen ferhipte typysk, mei’t wy soks faker sjoen hawwe by (non-kinstate) minderheden: wannear’tst grutte dingen dochst, is de naasjesteat der rap by om dy as ien fan harren op te easkjen. Wannear’tst lykwols wat ferkeard dochst… mar dat is in ferhaal op himsels.

Though the minority is spread throughout, there are towns that are Vlach strongholds. Our friends took us (by car, not by bike) to two of these places: Moscopole and Korçë. The first, Moscopole (Voskopojë in Albanian) once was a major Aromanian city (one of the largest in the whole of the Balkans), bustling with life with its own Academia and the first printing house in Albania. Nowadays however, only a small town remains after the city was destroyed three (!) times. Nevertheless the smaller size, this place is truly wonderful to walk through with cobblestone streets and several churches and monasteries. There are informational signs everywhere, though as a common tourist, you will miss the Vlach history: all famous people, all Vlach, are described as Albanian nationals. Luckily our friend easily spotted their Vlach names and could provide us with this information, giving us the complete and multicultural picture of the town. The signs were striking though, as this is common practise we see throughout as a (non-kinstate) minority: if you do great things, the nation state is quick to claim you as one of their nationals. If you do something bad however… but that’s a whole other story.

640 - Moskopolje (AL)

Net fier fan Moscopole ôf leit Korçë, dat in skildereftige stêd is mei alwer strjitten mei balstiennen, it hat syn eigen bier en in heech persintaazje Vlachen. De demografyske feroarings yn beide plakken falle fuortdaliks op en dêrmei wat resultaat soks hat op de minderheid. Yn Moscopole is de trochsneed âldens frijwat heech. Doe’t ús freondinne mei ynwenners prate, seinen se dat se it in aardichheid fûnen om wer ris sa’n jonge Vlach te treffen. Yn Korçë seagen wy in soad ferlitten hûzen as sichtbere oerbliuwsels fan lju dy’t dêr ea wenne hawwe. Dy lege hûzen binne in gefolch fan de massale migraasje nei’t it kommunistyske rezjym fallen wie. Doe namen lju de kâns waar om wolfeart earne bûten Albanië te finen. Tsjintwurdich spilet de ekonomyske driuwfear noch altiten in grutte rol yn dy plakken, mei’t in protte jonge minsken nei Tirana of nei it bûtenlân geane om te studearjen en te wurkjen. It resultaat is in dûbeld fersprate minderheid, mei’t dy net allinnich oeral yn ’e Balkan te finen is, mar ek oeral yn dy lannen sels mei as gefolch dat de âldelju efterbliuwe yn de Vlach-bolwurken.

Not far from Moscopole lies Korçë, which is a picturesque cobblestone city with its own beer brand, and with a high percentage of Vlachs. Both places had visible signs of the changes in demography and the impact it has on the minority. In Moscopole, the average age is quite high. When our friend spoke to locals, they said it was nice to see such a young Vlach again. In Korçë, we saw many deserted houses as remnants of inhabitants who once lived there. These empty houses are the result of a mass migration after the communist regime fell, when people took the chance to find prosperity outside Albania. Nowadays, still the economic draw plays a factor on these towns, as many young people leave to study and work either in the capital of Tirana or abroad. The result is a twice dispersed minority, not only already spread throughout the Balkans, but also venturing out of Vlach strongholds, leaving them to the elderly.

629 - Moskopolje (AL)

643 - Korce (AL)

Mar de bân tusken dy bolwurken en it nije libben yn Tirana en yn it bûtenlân is noch altiten sterk, om’t doazen fol mei Vlach-iten nei it appartemint yn Tirana tôge waarden. Dat wie de reden dat foar’t wy nei Korçë gienen al wat fan ’e tradisjonele koken priuwe koenen. Bygelyks Tãrkãnã, dat swier winteriten is (dat ek o sa lekker is yn ’e simmer kamen wy efter) en op brij liket. Moatst it siede yn molke en optsjinje mei wite tsiis en bôle yn in kom. Yn Moscopole hawwe wy ek besocht om Vlach-iten te krijen, mar wy meie dêr hjir gjin oardiel oer jaan, mei’t it neffens ús freondinne behoarlik ûnder de mjitte wie (it restaurant hie nije eigeners krigen en dêrmei wie it tradisjonele ferlern gien). Yn Korçë koenen wy lykwols wer oan op hoe’t de famylje itensea, dat doe koenen wy de echte peturi probearje. Peturi kin letterlik oersetting wurde as ‘blêden’, in pasta-eftich gerjocht dat servearre wurdt mei tsiis en walnuten. De lêste deis krigen wy op âlderwetske wize makke pita, dat bakt wurdt op ûnbidich grutte, rûne platen dy’t op gloeiende koallen pleatst wurde mei in lid derop dat besiedde is mei jiske. En wannear’tst pita hân hast, dan fregest dy ôf wêrom’t hja net de populêrste minderheid fan ’e Balkan binne. Of faaks is dat de reden wêrom’t elk lân de Vlach harren ta-eigenje wol.

But the connection between these strongholds and the new life in Tirana and abroad is still strong, as we saw boxes full of Vlach food sent to the Tirana apartment. Therefore, before we went to Korçë, we could taste the cuisine already. Tãrkãnã for example, a hearty winter food (also tasty in summer we found out) of porridge-like structure, cooked in milk and served with cheese and bread within the bowl. In Moscopole, we tried to get Vlach food, but we cannot review them here, as according to our friend, they weren’t up to standard (the restaurant had shifted owners and with them, the traditional touch). In Korçë however, we could rely on the family cooking again so we could test proper peturi, literally translated as ‘sheets’, a pasta-like dish served with cheese and walnuts. The final day we ended with traditional made pita, which is baked in huge tins on glowing embers and ash. And when you have tried the Vlach pita, oh boy, you wonder why it’s not the most popular minority of the Balkans. Or maybe, you realise why everyone wants to claim the Vlach to be their nationals.

668 - Korce (AL)

Dat is ien fan ’e tûkelteammen om de Vlach as in ûnderskiedende minderheid erkend te krijen. Albanië hat de minderheid twa jier lyn offisjeel erkend, sadat de Vlach mear mooglikheden hawwe om harren identiteit en taal te behâlden en fuort te sterkjen, mar der komt ek stipe út it bûtenlân wei. De reden dêrfoar is dat de Vlach net sjoen wurde as in ferspraat folk út ’e Balkan, mar as lju dy’t yn it bûtenlân wenje. Sa sjocht Roemenië de Aroemenen as Roemenen dy’t yn it bûtenlân wenje en promoatsje en stypje dêrom (A)Roemeenske aktiviteiten yn Albanië. Wy hawwe it resultaat fan sok Roemeenske stipe sjoen yn ’e foarm fan twa Aroemeenske kulturele sintra yn Korçë dy’t stipe wurde as Roemeenske kulturele sintra. Dat makket de saken allinnich noch mar yngewikkelder. Hokfoar ynfloed hat sa’n foarm fan stipe op in minderheid? Hoe kinne hja harren sa ûnderskiede? Hoe kinne hja harren sichtber en kenber meitsje as Vlach en aktiviteiten organisearje?

That is one of the struggles in Vlach recognition as a distinguished minority. Albania has recognised the minority two years ago, giving the minority more opportunities to develop and maintain their identity and language, but a form of support comes from abroad too. This is because the Vlach aren’t seen as a dispersed Balkan people, but as nationals living abroad. For example, Romania sees the Aromanian as Romanians living abroad, therefore they promote and support (A)Romanian activities in Albania. We could see the result of this Romanian support, as we saw two Aromanian cultural houses in Korçë supported as Romanian cultural houses. That makes things complicated to say the very least. What impact does this form of support have on a minority, to be able to distinguish themselves, make themselves visible as Vlach, and organise activities?

650 - Korce (AL)

Yngewikkeld of net, de Vlach binne yn Albanië alteast einliks erkend as Vlach en hja fine no út wat de mooglikheden binne om harren eigen wiidfersprate folk te stypjen. Wy kinne oars net as hoopje dat de takomst mear duorsume stipe jaan sil wat sichtberens, ûnderwiis, talige en kulturele aktiviteiten oanbelanget en fansels in trochgeande oanfier fan dat hearlike Vlach-iten.

Difficult or not, the Vlach in Albania are finally recognised as Vlach, and are exploring possibilities to support their own dispersed people. We can only hope the future will see a development of more sustainable support in visibility, education, language and cultural activities, and of course a sustainable flow of that delicious Vlach food.

Murphy’s Macedonia

The capital of Albania was our goal when we set off from Harns/Harlingen in Fryslân in May. Approximately two months later, we’re past Albania and it’s weird not to have a specific destination to go to anymore. We did and still have a rough route though, doing a loop through Europe. But the route and the lack of a specific one is a blog post for another time. This blog post is about our way through the terrific country of Macedonia and the bad luck we encountered.

770 - .... (MK)

People ask us now and again what the worst thing is that can happen when you cycle through half of Europe. We actually have a top three. Number one is an accident, number two is when things get stolen, number three is when things get (seriously) damaged. However, now that Ydwine had the lovely experience of being very ill, we might reconsider number three. Being ill on the road, especially while wild camping is certainly not recommended.

That particular day went fine actually, we cycled above 60 kilometres and had a fairly reasonable climb, so we were quite happy about everything. Later in the afternoon, grey clouds came in, so we quickly searched for and found a nice camp spot. Just before the rain and thunder started, we had our tent pitched and could crawl in for shelter. So far, so good. After the thunder had passed, we had a coffee to celebrate. But that didn’t go well, to say the least. It was the start of Ydwine feeling nauseous, and things went from bad to worse. Her state deteriorated very quickly and we soon found ourselves stuck on a little patch of grass in the middle of Macedonia. A little luck was that there was a small stream, so we didn’t run out of water. Things could have been worse though, as luckily Geart was still in good shape and able to help.

After a difficult night, things went slightly better. As we were close to the city of Kicevo, we packed our stuff and cycled there to find a hotel to have a full day’s rest. Ydwine slept almost all day and felt a bit better again the next morning. We were determined to be on the road again, but all the strength and condition Ydwine had gained in these two months were wiped away in just one bout of sickness. Therefore, we made two short days of around 30 kilometres.

It sounds quite short, but the second day, the day we reached the city of Kruševo, we had the steepest climb thus far. Above that, a part of that was a gravel path in poor condition. Imagine Ydwine going up, not completely recovered, with the sun burning down on us. Geart had to help her push the bike whenever he could as a true gentleman. The tough conditions with no way out made us realise how much we have to rely on each other, how much a human body can endure, and how far you can push yourself to go on. We reached Kruševo that day, but we cannot deny that it was one of the toughest days of our trip so far.

737 - Pusta Reka (MK)741 - Krusevo (MK)

With the unsuspected night in a hotel we realised one more thing. Namely the contrast in noise between a night for which you have paid and one you haven’t, i.e. a wild camp spot. We have made a rule that we try to have a camp site on the first day of a new country we visit. Just to ease in, get to know the country, and not to have the hassle of getting water and finding a camp spot right away. When we crossed the Albanian-Macedonian border, we arrived at lake Ohrid, so finding a campsite was easy. We found the best one you could think of as a cyclist: small, with benches, Wi-Fi and sockets, and of course with access to the lake. But the night was very noisy, with loud music, a snoring neighbour, dogs barking, cars driving by nearby, and what not. In the hotel in Kičevo our room was right next to the speakers of the Saudi-Arabian mosque, which of course very loudly called people for prayers. The city itself was quite vibrant too, so again we could hear music, traffic, dogs, and so on. To top that, the hotel was booked for a wedding party, and our neighbours had the after party in their room.

726 - Kicevo (MK)

This in such a stark contrast with wild camping. When you find a nice spot to wild camp, you mostly don’t have those sounds. It sounds a bit cliché and almost romantic, but usually there are only sounds of birds, buzzing insects, and the wind through the trees. Sometimes you’re relatively close to a village, so in the distance you hear a dog barking, and the occasional car can usually be heard, but that’s it. No music, no parties, no traffic. Just peace and quiet.


Well, peace and quiet until you’re a bit too close to wildlife. When we crossed the last mountain to Štip, we decided to stay on the mountain (or at least half way) and not to go into the valley yet. The previous night was warm and humid, so we thought it would be a bit cooler higher up. That wasn’t the case at all, unfortunately. Apart from that, at around half past one in the night Ydwine woke up by a growling sound. Both of us lay dead still in the tent listening to what we think was a wild boar. At the same time we thought of what would be best to do ourselves. Lay dead still as we already did, or get out of the tent and make a lot of noise to scare the critter away. We did the first option, it scrawled around a bit longer and then continued onwards. It left us with a beating heart in our chest and a broken night. But we survived and the tent wasn’t ripped to pieces either, so we ventured on the next day after we boiled an extra strong cup of coffee. That’s a clear advantage of a hotel or a campsite: no dangerous animals lurking around.

782 - Lekovica (MK)

Probably we have to extend our top three to a top five of worst things to happen on the road, with the additions of sickness and dangerous situations while camping. Because of the sickness and the poor condition of both Ydwine and some of the Macedonian paths, we felt like we had a bad bout of Murphy’s law. We had other (minor) issues too which added to that feeling. For example, we had a great miscommunication with a potential host, Geart’s cool red sunglasses broke, Ydwine’s collapsible bike stand fell off and got driven over not once, but three times before she could retrieve it from the road, and to top that, we have a small hole in the tent. But in hindsight, such small issues don’t have much impact in the long run. Even sickness can be overcome, as Ydwine can cycle normal distances again through the stunningly beautiful desolate landscapes of Macedonia. It may sound a bit cheesy, but with all the bad luck in Murphy’s Macedonia the moments when everything goes as ‘planned’ are worth even more. To make another cheesy note, bad luck runs out as well. Our last night we slept in a monastery. We asked to camp at the grounds, but soon afterwards the men we’ve asked came back with keys and opened up a room for us where we could spend the night. Another key came out of their pockets and soon the kitchen was open for us too. As the man went home again, he turned to us and shouted while smiling: “Macedonia!”. As if he were to say: thís is how Macedonia really is. Later in the evening, a thunderstorm came over us while we and our bikes were warm and dry inside. ‘Murphy’s Macedonia’? Maybe ‘Marvellous Macedonia’ would be a better title after all.

794 - Dzvegor (MK)


Through the streets of Albania

After we left the busy touristic coastline of Montenegro and crossed the Albanian border, we had the idea of cycling through the heart of the Balkan. For us it was a completely different world. We could see a variety of people along the road, most of them (including cyclists like us) would have been shooed off by the police if we were in the Netherlands: children cycling next to the highway, people transporting hay with their donkey, farmers and shepherds walking their cow or sheep to greener pastures, or people cycling slowly uphill on bikes without gears as old Mercedes cars are overtaking, leaving a trail of black smoke from their exhaust pipes. Next to the busy traffic, we were constantly busy with greeting and waving good-day, as the people were so friendly and heartily. Most of the time, it felt like we cycled with one hand only, as we had to wave to so many people and children. What is more, we were offered so many kind things: we couldn’t leave a village where we camped until we had a coffee, or at a fruit stall Ydwine wasn’t allowed to pay.

715 - Qafë Thane (AL)

All the things we saw and experienced we could have never experienced in the Netherlands. That, and the beauty of the country itself made the ride incredible for us. It also made us realise again how lucky we are: we have the possibility, and can take the time and money for such a trip. We always say that anyone can do this, you just need a bike, a will to travel like this, and time. Though this style of travelling is more accessible than other forms that need expensive transportation and/or accommodation, it still is a privilege for us to do this. What is more, we have been made aware of some things that are normal for us, but aren’t for others; well-maintained facilities, defined working hours, minimum living wages with a society that reflects that, and a superfluous choice.

Oh, how to feel like true pampered Western Europeans. For one, we could no longer drink the tap water. In some towns it is safe to drink (though it may differ per month due to maintenance work), but our stomachs cannot cope with the lower quality anyhow. There is an easy trick to that: boil and/or filter, which we did, but the extra steps made us aware of how easy our life is to just open any tap and drink no matter where you are in the Netherlands. Another facility that is so normal for us, but was not available in Albania is the railway system. Almost every  train connection has been shut down, which made that we cycled passed many abandoned rail-tracks (which may be made into beautiful cycle paths, we thought while looking down upon these straight tracks while climbing in busy traffic ourselves). Thus, there was no way for us to ‘cheat’ even if we were faced with tough cycling conditions. But we cannot complain as we can still do everything at our own pace, deciding when to have a break or call it a day.

However, we saw people who didn’t have the luxury of a break or take half the day off. Actually, we were astonished by the long working hours in Albania. In the Netherlands most people have a ‘normal’ workday from 9 till 5. Here, we saw people work from 7 in the morning till 11 in the evening. Fruit stalls, kiosks, car washes, small and big shops, they seem to never close at all, not even on a Sunday. One evening, we were in awe that we had bought freshly baked bread around half pas ten. You can imagine our surprise to see many of these family shops running all day, with some workers sneaking in a much needed nap in between, as in the Netherlands, opening and working times are heavily regulated. However, these people have to work long hours a day to make ends meet: “the job sucks, but I need the money” a waiter outside a restaurant told us. Geart then is lucky, as he can work on the road when possible, without having to work hours and hours for a dime.

622 - Tirana (AL)

When you do have that dime though, it goes a long way in Albania as most things are very cheap. With our friends, we could drink many coffees on terraces and buy beer whenever we wanted (also again because there is always something open, somewhere). Our money goes a long way as we aren’t spending big money a day, but also our money is worth more: where we would spend one euro in the Netherlands to buy a few bananas, here we have a whole bag of fruit and vegetables. What Geart earns in an hour, we can live off for many days. If we were to work here in a fruit stall, what we would earn in an hour, probably would also just cover that hour. Going out and cycle around Europe wouldn’t cross your mind as quickly in such a situation we imagine.

653 - Korce (AL)

Now, the whole population of Albania isn’t poor and we do not want to portray the country as such. There is just a stark difference in those who do have a proper income and those who clearly haven’t. And for us, this visible difference is simply something we aren’t used to seeing. In the Netherlands there are people who live in tough economic conditions, but there is social security to support everyone to have a certain level of living. Therefore, you do not see children collecting plastic bottles from the garbage for some money, people chopping wood to cook on, or someone on a street corner trying to sell the few items they can offer.

657 - Korce (AL)

The few items for sale was not only something we encountered with the street salesmen though. In the shops, even though the size of some would indicate otherwise, we found the selection of products to be smaller than in the Netherlands. We sometimes complained at home that the stores have too much on the shelves, and waste even more because of it. In the Netherlands, basically you can just walk in any supermarket (most are held by mega-companies) and buy whatever you want to eat that day. Here we encountered stores that had lined up their few products very spaciously just to cover the shelves. In short, we were faced with the ridiculously superfluous offer of products in the Netherlands.

705 - Qukës shkumbin (AL)

Cycling through such a different but beautiful country did give us an advantage: you place yourself in a more vulnerable place than if you were to drive through in a car or even camper. You take a break in the fields and wave to yet another shepherd, and you talk to the two cycling kids that stop for a chat in their best English. You wave and speak to so many people and are helped by even more (not one, but six people warning you at the same time when we went the wrong direction). In a way, cycling through Albania didn’t just make us aware of our privileges, it also gave us a privilege: we were and had to be in more contact with the people than the regular ways of travel.

Domovina Hrvatska

Rijeka wie ús earste doel yn Kroäsië, mei’t in freon ús útnûge hie del te kommen. Hy is sels ek in fytser, al hat er syn fyts al twa jier by syn âlden te stean, om’t Rijeka ‘fierstente folle heuvels’ hat. Neat is minder wier! It meastepart fan ’e stêd leit op in steile heuvel, dat wannear’t men alle kearen by dy hufter opfytse moat, hat men dêr gau tabak fan. Bûtendat hat er no ek net de moaiste fytsbelibbing hân, om’t er in grouwe boete krigen hie foar it ‘feroarsaakjen fan in ferkearsûngemak’ doe’t er in kear fan ’e fyts fallen wie. Hmmm, pracht fan in lân om troch te fytsen, soest sizze. Mar dat wie wol it gefal! Dêr kinst mear oer lêze yn ús foarige bloch.

Rijeka was our first goal in Croatia as a friend contacted us to come by. He himself is a cyclist too, though he has parked his bike at his parents’ place for two years now, as Rijeka has “too many hills.” And that is true. Most of the town lies on a steep hill, and if you have to cycle up that thing every single time, yeah, you may be fed up with it. Also, he hasn’t had the best cycling experience, as he was fined heavily for “causing a traffic accident” when he once fell of his bike. Hmmm, lovely country for cycling you could say, but it was! You can read about it in our previous blog.

397 - Rijeka (HR)

Njonken de geweldige lânskippen wienen wy ek fan doel om mear oer de Servyske minderheid yn Kroäsië witte te kommen. Dy reden makket it fuort al dreech om der oer te skriuwen, om’t dy minderheid behoarlik gefoelich leit yn ’e skiednis fan de Republyk fan Kroäsië.

Besides the beautiful landscapes, we also had the intention to learn more about the Serb minority in Croatia. Well, that also makes it tough to write about, as this minority lies very sensitive in the history of the Republic of Croatia.

Benammen yn ’e 16e iuw strutsen Serviërs del yn de Kroätyske grinsgebieten yn ruil foar militêre tsjinsten dy’t hja ferliend hienen om de Habsboarchske Monarchy te beskermjen, mei’t hja bekend stienen as in sterk folk. As wy mei in grutte stap nei de 20ste iuw geane, is Kroäsië part fan (de ferskate konstruksjes fan) Joegoslavië mei de Serviërs as oerhearskjende mearderheid. Yn 1991 spjaltet Kroäsië him fan Joegoslavië ôf om harren eigen steat te foarmjen. As in reaksje dêrop rôp de Servyske minderheid yn Kroäsië har eigen steat út, nammentlik de Republyk fan Servysk Krajina. De Krajina (front) bestriek de Kroätyske regio’s dêr’t de Serviërs harren ienris ta wenjen setten hienen om de Habsboarchske Monarchy te beskermjen. Dy skuor late ta de Kroätyske Oarloch (1991-1995) dy’t útfochten waard troch Serviërs en Kroäten mei UN-troepen der tuskenyn. Oan wjerskanten waarden oarlochsmisdieden begien, boargers waarden ferbannen en fermoarde. Yn 1995 wûnen de Kroäten de oarloch nei ‘Operaasje Stoarm’ (Operacija Oluja), dêr’t hja Knin, de haadstêd fan de Republyk fan Servysk Krajina, by oermasteren.

Mostly in the 16th century, Serbs settled the Croatian borderlands in exchange for military services guarding the Habsburg Monarchy as they were known as a strong people. Fast forward to the 20th century, Croatia is part of (the several constructions of) Yugoslavia where Serbs are the ruling majority. In 1991, Croatia breaks away from Yugoslavia to form their own nation state. As a reaction to this, the Serb minority in Croatia declared their own state, the Republic of Serbian Krajina. The Krajina (frontier) covered the Croatian lands where the Serbs had once settled to protect the Habsburg Monarchy. This fracture led to the Croatian War (1991-1995), which was fought between Serbs and Croats, with UN troops in between. War crimes were committed and on both sides, civilians were ousted and killed. In 1995, the war ended with a Croatian victory after ‘Operation Storm’ (Operacija Oluja), which took hold over Knin, the capital of the Republic of Serbian Krajina.

438 - Raduc (HR)

Wy hawwe in deimannich troch dy âlde Servyske delsettings en it gebiet fan de Republyk fan Servysk Krajina hinnefytst en koenen ús allinnich mar ôffreegje wat dêr plakfûn hie, mei’t der in ferhipt lyts bytsje ynformaasje te finen is. Wy seagen in tal monuminten dy’t de oerwinning fan de Kroätyske Heitelânoarloch fierde of monuminten foar de fallen Kroäten en it belang om harren offer foar it heitelân te betinken. Foar ús wienen dy monuminten ek in soarte fan kultuersjok. Sa wie der yn Knin in hiel plein omboud ta in oerwinningsmonumint, mei tillefyzjeskerms mei bylden fan ’e oarloch en alles om sa yn folle gloarje de Kroätyske oerwinning op ’e stêd te toanen. Ek doe’t wy op it heechste plak fan it âlde fort stienen, wie dêr in stânbyld fan presidint Tuđma dy’t oer de stêd útseach, om’t er dêr mei de troepen nei Operaasje Stoarm wie. Yn in bygebou wie in grutte eksposysje oer dy operaasje te besjen.

We cycled for a few days through these old Serb settlements and Republic of Serbian Krajina territory, and could only wonder what happened in this area as little information can be found. We came across several monuments that celebrate the victory of the Croatian Homeland War, or monuments for the fallen Croats and the importance to remember them and their sacrifice to the homeland. For us these monuments were also a bit of culture shock. In Knin for example, the entire main square is remodelled as a victory monument, including TV-screens showing images of the war, celebrating the Croatian victory of the city. Overlooking the city too, on the highest place in the ancient fortress is also president Tuđman as he was there with the troops after Operation Storm. On the grounds, an exhibition on the operation can be found.

451 - Knin (HR)

Ien ding wie glêshelder. It trauma fan ’e oarloch is farsk, dus de skriuwstyl is patriottysk. Wannear’t wy al eat oer de Serviërs lêze koenen, wie it yn bewurdings as ‘de Servyske oanfallers’. Wy hawwe gjin ynformaasje fûn oer hoe’t it wie foar de oare kant, dus neat oer it Servyske ferhaal, om sa te sizzen. Mar fan wat wy der út opmeitsje koenen, moat it net maklik west hawwe om yn de Republyk fan Servysk Krajina te wenjen. Guon Serviërs moatte op de iene of oare wize yn ’e fûke sitten hawwe, fanwegen harren etnisiteit: do sitst oan dizze kant, om’t dat dyn komôf is.

One thing became very clear to us. The trauma of the war is fresh and the style of speech therefore is patriotic. When we did read about Serbs, it was in sentences such as “the Serb aggressors.” We haven’t found information on how it was on the other side, the Serb story so to say. Because from what we gathered, living in the Republic of Serbian Krajina mustn’t have been easy. Certain Serbian Croats must have felt trapped in a way by their ethnicity – you are on this side because of what your heritage is.

Jonge Servyske Kroäten moatte hjoed-de-dei ek it gefoel hawwe yn in fûke te sitten. Us freon sei dat hy – lykas in soad jonge Servyske Kroäten – syn twaslachtige identiteit betiizjend fynt en it tiid ferget om dêr mei omgean te kinnen. It moat dreech wêze om part fan in minderheid te wêzen dêr’t fanwegen syn histoarje op delsjoen wurdt. It moat ek net maklik wêze om altiten fan dat soarte fan patriottyske berjochten te lêzen – do bist in Kroäat, mar tagelyk is dyn Servyske orizjine folslein keppele oan de oarlochsmisdieden tsjin de Kroäten. Benammen foar jonge Servyske Kroäten hat de skiednis foar har berte al in stimpel op harren drukt.

Young Serb Croats nowadays must feel trapped too. Our friend said that he – like many young Serbian Croats – finds his dual identity confusing, and it takes time to find solace in that. It must be very hard to be part of a minority that is frowned upon by its history. It must also be very difficult to always read these type of patriotic messages – you are Croatian, but at the same time your Serb ancestry is solely linked to war crimes against Croats. Especially for young Serbian Croats, history put a label on them before birth.

422 - Zuta Lokve (HR)

Foar ús as Friezen binne taalrjochten en ûnderwiis nei alle gedachten de wichtichste faktoaren fan ús minderheid. Lykwols foar de Servyske minderheid is taal mar in triviale kwestje (Kroätysk en Servysk binne tige besibbe oaninoar), it binne de skiednis fan de minderheid en hoe dêrmei om te gean op in iepen en ferienjende wize de saken dêr’t it om giet. Der binne organisaasjes dy’t dy útdaging oangeane, want wy hawwe heard dat de minderheidsorganisaasjes fan de Servyske Kroäten en de Kroätyske Serviërs yn juny in freonskiplike fuotbalwedstryd yn Servië holden hawwe. Dy wedstryd hie it doel om dy minderheden mei in mienskiplike en problematyske skiednis byinoar te bringen en sa te wurkjen oan in freedsume takomst. Fuotbal hat ek fertuten dien as in ferienjend elemint ferline jier, mei’t Kroäsië it tige goed die by de wrâldkampioenskip. Dat lit faaks ek sjen dat ballen nedich binne om stappen te ûndernimmen in lân byinoar te bringen, sa’t ús freon it him mei in glim yn it sin brocht: ‘It wie de earste kear dat elkenien bliid en gelyk wie yn it oanmoedigjen fan Kroäsië.’ Faaks dat op dy wize Kroäsië foar elkenien in heitelân wurdt.

For us as Frisians, dealing with language rights and education are maybe the most important factors of our minority. For the Serb minority however, language is just a minor issue (Croatian and Serbian are also very similar), as the history of the minority and how to deal with this in an open and uniting way are the key issues. There are organisations trying to just that, as we heard that the minority organisations from the Serbian-Croats and the Croatian-Serbs had a friendly football match in Serbia in June. This match was to bring together the minorities that share a difficult history, but want to work towards a peaceful future. Football also proved to be the uniting factor only last year, as Croatia was doing very well in the FIFA World Cup. It maybe also shows that balls are needed to take steps towards uniting a country, as our friend fondly remembers: “it was the first time everyone was happy and equal, supporting Croatia.” Maybe this way Croatia can become a homeland for everyone.

Crossing Croatia

Before we set off on our journey we were well aware that the countries where we would be during summer would be a little hotter than in Fryslân, The Netherlands. It was just that Albania is our goal and we would see how it would be when getting closer. Now that we are in the middle of Croatia, summer has really started. “Why didn’t we just go to Norway?” we sometimes say to each other, but then we console ourselves that the whole of Europe is facing heat waves.

But we manage, as mankind has managed, just by adapting to its surroundings. We do that already since Italy by having a riposo from approximately twelve till two, when the sun is at its strongest. We hunt for shade and if possible a little bit of wind. If there isn’t any shade to be found and we really need to get off the simmering tarmac, we always have our own shade packed away in Ydwine’s pannier, namely a tarp. We thought we would use it a lot with bad weather (aka rain), but one could call this bad weather as well in a sense.

414 - Luka Kom (HR)

Of course we have to keep hydrated as much as possible. Whenever there is a fountain, toilet, or whatever, we refill our bottles. We even carry more bottles than usual, just to be sure that we don’t run dry. Another adaptation is that we try to get up at five o’clock in the morning and have an early start. Then the temperatures are still bearable. Besides that, mornings are magical when everything is still quiet and nature slowly awakens. But along with nature, the traffic awakens too.

Traffic-wise Croatia has been great so far. We have had some route advice by different (cycling) Croats. It was always the same: stay as far as possible from the touristic coastline. That’s why we cycled up a mountain after Rijeka and been cycling inland from that moment on. We haven’t regretted it ever since, because the route has been very scenic and diverse, with hardly any traffic (and the cars that were there gave a lot of space), no tourists, and good camping spots.

442 - Malovan (HR)

It’s very impressive to cycle through such landscapes without much human intervention. We can cycle for kilometres over hills and mountains without spotting many buildings nor people. Because of this certain desolateness (especially in the first few days), it gives us even more the sense of adventure. We have to plan more to make sure to buy food in advance, as we never know where the next (small) supermarket can be found. The same goes for water, as mentioned before.

446 - Zrmanja Vrelo (HR)

That we hardly see urbanisation is not completely true. We do see a quite some houses, or better said remnants of houses. Croatia has had a very turbulent history, to say the least. Evidence of the war can be seen all around; completely destroyed houses, bullet holes, (half) deserted villages, war monuments and so on. All that is maybe even more impressive than the fastness of the nature. In a next blog post we will try to write more about the history and the representation of it.

Recent developments have brought their own consequences. We have been warned that the chance is relatively high that we will encounter refugees either on the road or when we camp. When we were in Mačkolje, they already told us that it was quite common that groups of people are arrested because they have crossed the border illegally. We always had to have our documents on us, just in case. We haven’t encountered refugees (yet), but we can’t dare to imagine how hard it has to be for them. We mean, we really have to plan how we do it with our water and food supplies. When you cross a country by foot in search for a better life the trip is way more than just an adventure as it is for us.

Na obisku pri Slovencih v Italiji

Wy kinne alwer in lân fan ús list ôfstreekje, mei’t wy Italië efter ús litten hawwe. Ut soarte hawwe wy net mear as it noarden fan it lân sjoen, mar wat in diversiteit! De earste pear hûndert kilometers troch Súd-Tirol wie klearebare willewurk, mei’t wy oars net hoegden te dwaan as perfekte fytspaden by streamkes en rivieren del te folgjen. Neidertiid waard it justjes dreger en stressiger, om’t wy op ’e gewoane diken kamen… mei de stereotypyske toeterjende Italiaanske automobilist. Net allinnich de omjouwing wie fariearre, mar it talige lânskip feroare ek neigeraden. Ynearsten koenen wy noch Dútsk prate yn Súd-Tirol mei’t dêr in mearderheid oan Dútsktalige minsken wenje, mar ek de Ladynske minderheid sit yn dy omkriten. Yn ’e provinsje fan Udine kamen wy samar oare twatalige buorden tsjin. Hokfoar Romaanske taal soe it ditkear wêze? It wie de Friûlyske taal, dy’t lykas it Ladyn en Rumantsch in Reto-Romaanske taal is, dêr’t wy yn ús foarige blogpost oer skreaun hawwe. Uteinliken hawwe wy it langst taholden by ús freondinne en har famylje yn ’e buert fan Triëst, dy’t lykwols by in oare minderheid yn it noarden fan Italië hearre.

We can already check off Italy from our list, and what a diverse country it proved to be! The first hundreds of kilometres through South Tyrol was pure joy, with perfect cycle paths following streams and rivers. Afterward, it became more difficult and stressful as we had to venture on the roads with well… often the stereotypical honking Italian car driver. Not only the surroundings were diverse, also the linguistic landscape kept changing. At first, we could speak German still as South Tyrol has a majority of German speakers, but also the Ladin minority can be found here. Not much further in the province of Udine, we stumbled upon other bilingual street signs. What Romance language could it be this time? It was the Friulian language, which is Rhaeto-Romance like the Ladin and Rumantsch language we wrote about in a previous blog. We ended up spending the most time near Trieste with our friend and family however, who are part of a yet another minority in the North of Italy.

285 - Palazzolo (I)


Italië? It part dêr’t wy ferbleaunen – in hoannestap fan ’e Sloveenske grins ôf – is pas by it keninkryk fan Italië kommen yn 1918, nei de Earste Wrâldoarloch. Dêrfoar foel it gebiet om Triëst hinne ûnder de Habsboarchske Ryk, letter it Eastenryksk-Hongaarske Ryk. Dêrnei wie Triëst in koart skoftke yn Joegoslavyske hannen en wie it in frijsteat fan 1947 oant en mei 1954. It docht dêrom gjin nij dat hjir in multykulturele mienskip is mei yn it bysûnder de Sloveenske minderheid yn ’e doarpen om Trst hinne.

Italy? This part where we stayed, very near to the Slovenian border, has only been part of the kingdom of Italy since 1918, after the First World War. Before, the Trieste area has belonged to the Habsburg Monarchy, later Austro-Hungarian Empire. Afterwards, Trieste has also fallen under Yugoslav rule for a short period and was a free state from 1947-1954. It is not strange then to find a multicultural society there and in particular, the Slovenian minority in the villages surrounding Trst.

347 - Trst (I)

Trst is de Sloveenske namme foar de stêd, mar spitigernôch is dat kennis dy’tst witte moatst, mei’t yn ’e stêd sels suver neat gjin (skriftlik) Sloveensk te merkbiten falt. Boppedat steane der lotter ientalich Italiaanske buorden om ’e stêd hinne. ‘The city is trying to be Italian only,’ sa’t ús freondinne sei. Lokkigernôch hawwe de doarpen op it plattelân sawol harren orizjinele Sloveenske as in Italiaanske namme. Dy Italianisearring waard oanfjurre troch it fassisme dat in swarte bledside is yn de multykulturele skiednis fan Trst en oanwêzigens fan de Slovenen. Yn 1920 utere dy fijanlike hâlding tsjin oaren oer him yn geweld trochdat it Sloveenske kulturele gebou Narodni dom – dêr’t ek Hotel Balkan yn siet – yn ’e brân stutsen dat sawol in skroeiplak yn ’e stêd as op de Sloveenske minderheid efter liet. It hoecht net sein te wurden dat yn ’e tiid fan it fassisme der in grutte eangst wie om dy oars foar te dwaan as Italiaansk.

Trst is the Slovene name for the city, but unfortunately this is knowledge you have to know, as within the city it is hard to find any (written) Slovenian presence, and the city is surrounded by monolingual Italian signs too. “The city is trying to be Italian only,” as our friend said. Luckily, outside in the rural area, village signs have their Slovenian names as well as their given Italian names. This Italianisation was spurred by Fascism, which threw a dark shadow over the multicultural history of Trst and that of the Slovene presence. In 1920, the hostility against otherness was outed with violence, as the Slovene cultural building Narodni dom – which also hosted the Hotel Balkan – was set ablaze, leaving a black mark within the city as well on the Slovenian minority. It is needless to say that during the period of Fascism, fear to speak the language or show that you were anything other than Italian was high.

294 - Mackolje (I)

Der wienen wol antyfassisyske bewegings. Ien dêrfan wienen de partisanen, dêr’t Slovenen, Kroäten en Italianen harren by oansleaten. Nettsjinsteande it feit dat dy groep meast as kommunistysk sjoen wurdt, wie it tige fariearre, mei’t minsken út ferskillende beweechredenen harren oanmelden. It tryste is dat soks grutte gefolgen hie, mei’t yn de Twadde Wrâldoarloch de partisanen manmachtich ferfolge en útmoarde waarden troch de nazys.

There were movements against Fascism, one of the being the Partisans, which was joined by Slovenes, Croats, and Italians. Though mainly linked to communism, it was a diverse movement with people joining for a variety of reasons. Sadly however, this had major consequences, as in the Second World War Partisans were widely persecuted and murdered by the Nazi and Fascist regime.

Us freondinne naam ús mei nei de Risiera di San Sabba, in âlde rysfabryk yn Trst dat yn ’e Twadde Wrâldoarloch omboud wie. It waard in finzenis, in plak dêr’t finzenen op transport setten waarden nei de konsintraasjekampen ta, in martelplak, in moardplak. It wie de iennichste Polizeihaftlager yn Italië mei in krematoarium, mar it grutte publyk is der net mei bekend. Wylst wy yn ’e âlde fabryk omrûnen, koenen wy de ferskrikkings dy’t dêr plakfûn hienen suver fiele. Ek al wie de Risiera yn ’e lêste dagen fan de oarloch yn ’e fik stutsen om de grouweldieden út te wiskjen, sizze de restanten en ferhalen fan minsken dy’t it oerlibbe hawwe mear as genôch. Benammen ien briefke taaste ús djip yn it moed.

Our friend took us to the Risiera di San Sabba, an old rice factory in Trst which was remodelled in the Second World War. Then it functioned as a prison, a place to put captives on transport to concentration camps, a place of torture, and a place of murder. It was the only Polizeihaftlager in Italy with a crematorium, yet it is little known to the broader public. As we walked around the old factory, the horrors that took place there were tangible and hard to face. Though the Risiera was set ablaze in the final days of the war to destroy evidence of what had taken place, the remnants and witness reports tell enough. One note in particular was heart wrenching.

335 - Trst [Risiera] (I)

Nee, dat wie net de typyske leuke toeriste-aktiviteit, mar it is essinsjeel om de skiednis, swierrichheden en it trauma fan ’e Sloveenske minderheid te begripen. It is begryplik dat der in generaasje âlden binne dy’t út eangst net Sloveensk mei harren bern praten hawwe en dat der in soad Sloveenske famyljenammen Italianisearre binne.

No, this is not the typical tourist fun activity, but it is vital to understand the history, difficulties, and the trauma of the Slovenian minority. You may understand why there is a generation of parents that have not passed on the language to their children out of fear, or why there are many Slovenian family names that are Italianised.

Lokkigernôch is de Sloveenske minderheid der noch altiten. Boppedat wurdt dy no beskerme mei minskerjochten en is it in erkende minderheid. Lykas earder neamd hawwe de doarpen op it plattelân harren Sloveenske nammen op ’e buorden, sa is der in Sloveenske krante yn Trst en bern kinne nei Sloveenske basisskoallen en fuortset ûnderwiis. Wy hawwe folop de kâns hân om de Sloveenske kultuer te sjen, te hearren en te priuwen. De earste jûns doe’t wy yn it doarpke Mačkolje wienen, koenen wy fuortdaliks al it Sloveenske koar sjongen hearre op it tsjerkeplein en de jûns derop gienen wy nei Repen dêr’t de Sloveenske folksdûnsgroep harren tradisjonele kostúms, lieten en dûnsen toanden. Wat foar ús Friezen benammen in aardichheid wie, wie dat de measten jonge minsken wienen. Wannear’t wy nei in Fryske folksdûnsjûn gean soenen, dan is de trochsneed leeftyd dochs fier boppe de sechstich. Foar ús in bewiis dat nettsjinsteande alle ellinde de ynteresse en de leafde foar de Sloveenske kultuer net ôfnommen is.

The Slovene minority has not disappeared luckily and is still present in the area, now protected with human rights as it is a recognised minority. As mentioned before, the rural villages have their Slovenian name on the signs, there is a Slovenian newspaper settled in Trst, and children can attend Slovenian primary and secondary schools. We also had more than enough chances to see, hear, and taste the Slovenian culture in the days we were there. On the first night in the village Mačkolje, we could hear the Slovenian choir sing on the church square, and the night after we went to Repen where the Slovenian folkdance group showed their traditional costumes, songs and dances. What was especially enjoyable to see for us Frisians was that the majority of the performers were young adults. When we would have gone to a Frisian folksdance night, unfortunately the average age will be above sixty. For us, this was a sign that the interest and love for Slovenian culture has not dwindled despite the hardships.

306 - Repen (I)

Koart kriemd, wy hienen in geweldigen tiid by ús freondinne en har famylje en hawwe sa gauris in waarme jûn op it balkon sitten te praten oer de Fryske en Sloveenske minderheden. Hokfoar effekt in literatuer op in lytse taal hawwe kin, hoe wichtich oft ûnderwiis wol net is of hoe’t (lokale) oerheden it útfieren fan minderheidsrjochten ferbetterje kinne.

In all, we ourselves had a lovely time with our friend and her family, and spent many warm evenings on the balcony talking both about our Frisian and Slovenian minorities. How literature can make an impact on a small language, how important it is to have education, or how (local) governments can improve the execution of minority rights.

Bywannear’t ús pear wurden Sloveensk net genôch wienen, hienen wy altiten noch de help fan eigenmakke wyn fan ’e famylje om ús tongen losser te meitsjen.  De famylje hat in wyngert en olivebeammen, dêr’t sy beide wyn en regionale olive-oalje fan meitsje. Sy ferkeapje dy produkten meast mei de tradisjonele Osmica, in perioade dêr’t lytsere wyngerts harren poarten iepenje om sa harren produkten te ferkeapjen. Lykwols krûpt it nasjonalisme dêr ek al op, want dizze grutske Sloveenske famylje wurdt twongen om op harren produkten net de regio mar ‘product of Italy’ te setten. Wy binne om dy reden o sa benijd hoe’t it ferskaat yn dit gebiet stânhâlde sil, mei’t hjoed-de-dei it nasjonalisme hieltiten mear opkomt.

And if our few words of Slovene weren’t enough, we still had the home-made wine from the family to help our tongues loosen up a bit. The family has a vineyard and grows olives too, from which they make both lovely wine and a regional bound olive oil. They mostly sell these products during the traditional Osmica, a period where smaller vineyards open up their tavern and sell their products. Unfortunately nationalism is crawling up again there too, as this proud Slovenian family will be forced to label their products not by their region, but as “product of Italy”. We’re therefore more than curious how diversity will withstand in this region during these times where nationalism takes hold once again.

318 - Prebeneg (SLO)