To The Lake: A Balkan Journey of War and Peace

Kapka Kassabova is taking us back to the Balkans.

I’ve been looking forward to something new from this wonderful writer since Border, which was my top travel read of 2018.

That earlier book touched on the author’s childhood in Bulgaria, and To The Lake takes us deeper as she journeys to her grandmother’s place of origin in the mountainous Macedonian lake district.

Hitler’s Scientists Put Men on the Moon

V-1 and V-2 rockets at the Nazi’s Peenemünde Army Research Centre

The second-largest island on Germany’s Baltic Sea coast is a summer vacation paradise. But it once housed a massive secret weapons program that the Nazis hoped would allow them to snatch victory from the closing jaws of defeat.

Loss and change in a post-pandemic world

Abandoned hotel in the Azores

In my last blog, we talked about what the future of the European Union might look like in a post-pandemic world.

I’d like to add a few more random predictions as we pull back the lens to consider the globe.

Will COVID-19 Break the European Union?

(Photo: REUTERS/Regis Duvignau)

In a previous blog, I promised to share my thoughts on the post-pandemic future of Europe, in particular for North American readers who may not be following developments on this side of the Atlantic.

Travel’s off limits for the next several months, so we might as well talk about something.

Berlin life in the time of COVID-19

Pariser Platz on COVID-19 nights (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

I’m not a disease expert by any stretch — though I have been sick in several third world shitholes.

But it feels like anyone with any sort of public platform is expected to take a position on the COVID-19 pandemic. It certainly had a paralyzing impact on travel.

Picnics and Laughter in a Rhodope Mountain Glade

Plovdiv: Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited city

We left the Pirin mountains the next day and entered the vast flat plain of the Maritza River Basin that connects Sofia to Plovdiv and opens out towards the Black Sea. The was the great path from Europe to the Levant. The road to Constantinople and Asia.

Hiking Bulgaria’s Pirin Mountains

The Pirin Mountains are a hiker’s paradise…

It was time to move on to the Pirin Mountains, and the off-season ski resort of Bansko, where hotel suites went for bargain prices and half the restaurants were closed. The Thracians knew the Pirins as ‘Orbelus’ (‘snowy mountain’). The Slavs associated them with Perun, god of storms and thunder, the most powerful deity in their pantheon. To us, they promised some of the best hiking this side of the Alps.

Drifting Through The Crossroad of Empires

Rila Monastery

The beginning of the journey didn’t bode well. Bulgaria Air was nearly two hours late. We eventually boarded an unmarked plane with ancient seats and the sort of old-style seatbelts I hadn’t seen in at least a decade.

An unmarked plane didn’t bode well…

Wandering Prehistoric Worlds in the Azores

Wandering the peaceful trails of Terra Nostra Park

I circumnavigated the eastern end of the island on minor roads that hugged the rugged north coast, stopping in rural villages that felt a world away from the tourist centres and busy bypass road above. I saw tractors working the fields, and in one village, a cheerful road crew laying down fresh tarmac. But otherwise it was just me and the cows.

Adrift in the Mid-Atlantic

Fields fill the flat land on Sao Miguel’s north shore.

It’s a group of nine islands straddling the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a third of the way across the ocean from continental Europe. The people speak Portuguese, but the islands were undiscovered and uninhabited until 1432. They’ve suffered pirates, invaders, religious persecution and serious crop failures. Today they’re an isolated paradise for hikers and nature lovers.