Solo Female Travel and Photography in Central/Eastern Europe and Beyond. Zof is a twenty-something travel and visual addict. Frugal solo female traveler and wannabe travel photographer. Freelance translator (Czech-Polish, Slovak-Polish), a seasonal poet. The Picktures is a story of picking the pictures and wandering around South Caucaus, Eastern and Central Europe, the Balkans and beyond.
There’s not much to say about visiting Kotor, Montenegro. I feel like all has been already told a thousand times.
Kotor might be one of the prettiest towns in the Balkans and it’s getting the recognition it deserves. Not only that. Kotor is incredibly touristy.
You know, it is one of these towns that could enjoy a quiet vacation without cruise ships appearing every single morning. Everyone needs to be alone, sometimes. I believe towns do, too, otherwise they turn into a product.
That’s why I couldn’t have been happier to visit in Mid-October. I was still lucky with the weather, but I also got a chance to wander around Kotor’s narrow streets pretty much by myself. It’s more than likely that I wouldn’t love it all that much if I visited two months earlier. If you can visit Kotor in low season, do it (unless you love crowds that is).
I traveled to the gorgeous Kotor Bay last fall and I made Kotor my base, partly due to unbelievably cheap hostel dorms, partly because I felt like it made a good starting point for day trips, which turned out to be true.
It was a very brief trip, but I managed to cram a lot into it without getting exhausted. I took a relaxed half-day trip to Perast, I visited haunting Stari Bar, and, finally, I hopped on the Great Montenegro Tour bandwagon with the 360 Monte Travel Agency. I really recommend them to all travelers who would like to experience different faces of Montenegro in limited amount of time and/or weird people like me who never got themselves to obtain that driving license, once and for all. Also, just to make things clear, I paid for my tour. No freebies, just a happy customer here. OK, I’m digressing, I will write about the tour some time later on.
So, what did I love about Kotor! Everything! I guess it’s the location that makes people fall for the place. The landscape of the Bay is breathtaking. I know it sounds cliché, but this time it’s for real.
I really enjoyed climbing up to the fortress to uncover more and more of the spectacular views. The steps are steep, but the journey is rewarding. I loved taking lazy strolls in the evenings, when the last of the cruise people boarded their ships.
I was happy to eat fresh seafood again (yeah, I’m sure residents of landlocked countries feel me).
I loved Kotor, because it was a great beauty therapy. Not sure if it’d be the same if I visited in the peak season, but I dare to say that probably not. So, it turns out October is the right moment for the Kotor Bay romance.
(With the city, of course. I traveled solo. The Balkans are my favorite region ever to travel solo.)
2018 has probably been the quietest year in the history of this blog. There is a reason behind all this – I was rather busy with revolutionizing my life in the past months.
As some of you might know I was given a fantastic opportunity to spend three great months as a writer-in-residence in Prague in the framework of Visegrad Literary Residences. I worked on my translations of contemporary Czech female poets, attended approximately 74748959505 literary events, and – last but not least – I fully reconnected with the Czech Republic. I’ve spent 5 years studying Czech language and literature once and I earn my living as a translator, so there is a lot to talk about here. I was happy to discover that Central Europe is still my biggest love, even if I shamelessly cheated on it with the Caucasus for nearly five years.
Yerevan, my first balcony view, summer 2013.
I spent over four years living in Yerevan. Over. Four. Years. The first and second year were delightful and fulfilling. By the third year I was quite ready to pack my red suitcases and depart to pretty much anywhere else, preferably far away from the Caucasus and anything post-Soviet. I never tried to write about it on the blog, but one day I will. Sooner than later, I believe.
For now, I’ll just keep it short. Hi, my name is Zof, and I’ve overdone Armenia. For the most part I was painfully aware staying was not beneficial. Not only that, it was probably unhealthy, too.
Tsaghats Kar Monastery, Armenia
But saying is easier than doing. My adventuring in Armenia wasn’t only travels, wine, and pomegranates. As some of you probably know, I also met someone there. And this someone and I decided to be together against all odds. While I fell out of love with the place, I was still in Armenia, because I still loved that special person. It isn’t easy to actually pack a local and ship him to Central Europe, if you know what I mean. I can’t even explain how complex all of that was. So we waited. We waited until we are both ready. We waited until our finances will let us take a leap of faith. Then I won a residency and realized I literally can’t go back into gloomy Armenian winter. I wouldn’t handle it. That was it. That was the moment.
The Roofs. Prague Old Town.
I only went back to pack and discuss the details of our big move. On January 3rd 2018 I officially moved to Prague. I originally planned to do it back in 2014 after my one-year stint in Armenia was supposed to be over. I keep my word, people. I’m just a bit late to things sometimes.
I came to Prague with one suitcase and no place to stay. You can imagine or these inglorious things – apartment hunts, starting bank accounts, getting all the endless paperwork done, buying stuff for the apartment, getting a job to pay for the stuff, dealing with Central European winter blues, getting all my partner’s paperwork back in Yerevan done, so he can come stay with me…..it wasn’t exactly a piece of cake.
But we’ve done it, and here we are, in Prague, together, enjoying beautiful spring and early summer, and planning way more trips that we can ever fit into our busy schedules.
That’s me, enjoying spring.
Prague feels like home to me since the day one. I speak the language fluently and I love it. It’s my favorite language on Earth and beyond. I’m literally happy I can have conversations in it daily. Also, the city just feels like I never even left. It’s been half year since the move, but I don’t even count. I’m just here, and it feels right. I’m so happy I don’t have to justify my presence in a place on every step, as it was in Armenia. Prague, unlike Yerevan, is a city that loves me back. And I’m the kind of person who only settles for butterflies.
I can finally go to all these literary events to listen to the contemporary poetry I translate. Like, okay, I have internet. I can access these things from anywhere in the world including Yerevan. True, but it isn’t the same. I’m totally indulging in the experience, and I can’t believe I’ve voluntarily left that world a few years earlier to like, um, live in the Caucasus? Silly me. Luckily during my last Armenian year, I had enough time to rethink my life choices and redefine my priorities.
My birthday gift to myself
I turned 30 last winter. I feel like you can do anything you want after you turn 30. And I want to focus on being literary translator. That’s what I originally wanted to do after I graduated from Slavic Studies. But in the meantime, I started working for various migrant NGOs which eventually led me to the Caucasus. Literature had to wait, but I’m back at it. And I somehow always knew one day I would return. I was on a mission collecting experience and memories and turning into a more self-conscious person with a clear goal in front of me. Clearly there is no better place to be for someone who wants to translate contemporary Czech poetry than Prague. So, I will probably hang in here for a while. It seems like my partner is enjoying these parts as well, so, well, we are settled for now.
Prague in bloom
I started writing again. And I don’t mean blogging. I don’t care about blogging all that much. I’m writing poetry again, and it’s exhilarating. I have a public reading tomorrow. I’m back to where I belong. Believe me or not, I don’t even care how it sounds. I’m happy.
Reading my poems in Bucharest this May
Now, there is one more thing to clarify. I love this blog and I will keep it up, although I can’t really promise you regular posts or any kind of professional approach. I need to be professional 24/7 in other spheres. I don’t even travel that much these days. I haven’t edited my photos from trips I took last year yet. I’m no travel blogger, y’all.
Somewhere in Vinohrady
And it feels good, because I couldn’t care less about travel blogging lately. Seeing many blogs I used to love decrease in quality in the name of quick monetization made me cut my feeds drastically. Almost none of the sites I currently follow are run by called professional bloggers. I guess I will even write a whole post on that once. I have been following the blogosphere since 2012 so seeing it change to so much worse is actually a big deal.
Kralupy nad Vltavou, Czech Republic
This isn’t really a travel blog and it’s not trying to be one. It’s a blog of a girl who likes to travel to find inspiration. I love space and I don’t respect borders. I have a constant need to go, to move, to discover. I couldn’t care less about top things to do in a destination or posing in front of something to get an instagrammable shot. Or instaworthy. Call it whatever you want, I couldn’t care less. I just geninely like taking photos of places. That’s it.
Walking the Dvorak Pathway to Nelahozeves, Czech Republic
I’m also not a particular fan of these lengthy posts that pretend to be practical, but they just sound like Wikitravel to me. This isn’t about the road anymore; it’s about an industry I literally can’t stand. It lacks personal perspective. It’s tasteless. Of course, there are honorable exceptions, but that is probably a topic for a whole new article. And I’m digressing.
Forest, Central Bohemia, Czech Republic
Let’s go back to this very blog. It isn’t a travel blog and I don’t want to be called a travel blogger. I’m a girl who travels to keep her balance and likes to take photos. This is a photo diary. Nothing more and nothing less. I hope this is what you are looking for if you stayed with me till now.
Svaty Jan pod Skalou, Czech Republic
In the foreseeable future I will focus on rediscovering Central Europe and short-term travel in the Czech Republic, which will hopefully find some audience. I will be totally content with 20 like-minded people. I hope you are one of them.
The trip to Newcastle was a gift. I would never even consider going there, but when my brother left for England to study at Newcastle University for a semester, I bought a ticket, too. My mom and I visited him on his birthday in late March. I guess we were the luckiest people – we haven’t seen a drop of rain while in England. Brexit wasn’t too obvious either. It was all blue skies and bridges, and Tyne, and love.
England isn’t exactly in my favorite region, and I rarely think (or look) west while planning trips. On the other hand, though, it’s healthy to leave the bubble sometimes. At least that’s what people say.
This time they were right. I had a lot of fun in Newcastle. I loved the wild seaside. Durham was awesome. Newcastle was way more interesting than I expected it to be. It was a very refreshing trip, partly because it was out of my usual post-Habsburg, post-Eastern bloc zone.
I hope the images I took there, these never-ending side notes, will also inspire someone to do something creative today.
There are two lakes in the world I tend to call inland seas, just to give them justice. One of them is the Sevan Lake in Armenia. The other one is Lake Ohrid, the famous Macedonian jewel.
It’s probably the touristiest spot in the country, but somehow it still manages to keep the charm. It’s an accomplishment for a place of that size (read: tiny).
I’m not a morning person, but I would wake up early to watch the mist and the morning light. I would sit at the outdoor café or a bench for hours watching how the waters change their color. All the shades of blue were my delight.
After all the quirkiness of Skopje and wandering around Matka Canyon with feet full of blisters, the peaceful Ohrid was all I needed. I haven’t engaged myself in many activities. They seemed redundant at the moment.
Sometimes lakes are all you need.
I bought no souvenirs. I just took zillion pictures of water, the hills, and the sky instead. I hope you guys will enjoy them.
I wish I could say 2017 was a good year. The thing is it really wasn’t, and I won’t lie about it. It was an important one though, that’s for sure.
January in Munich
Long story short I went through a lot of difficult personal issues, I worked 12 hours a day in the first half of the year, and then the G20 summit made my summer a chaotic nightmare.
A coastal walk in Sunderland, England, March 2017
Bridges in Newcastle, England, March 2017
Exploring Durham, England, March 2017
In the meantime I realized I can’t live in Armenia anymore. Sorting that out also took a lot of time, effort, and wine glasses. Good news: it’s (kinda) sorted. I’m not still not sure about visa requirements for guinea pigs, but everything looks (semi)planned and (entirely) possible. More on that later.
Catching balance in Prague, April 2017
After a long, exhausting winter and the summer of insomnia, the best fall had come. I was given a beautiful opportunity to spend 3 fulfilling months on a literary residency in Prague (thank you, Visegrad Fund, you might have easily saved my sanity).
Rediscovering Czech Republic, September 2017
During my time in Prague I fully realized two things, once and for all: I want to live there. Now. I want to write and translate poetry. It’s way more important than travel or than my desperate attempts of creating a home base in the Caucasus that I would love.
Prague once again, this time in October
A few days after the New Year I will be going to Prague again to look for a house for us to start over in a different place. I would say “back home”, except I never lived there longer than like half a year at a time. But the feeling is there, somewhere. It’s been around for a while, and I just can’t ignore it anymore.
Street Art in Hamburg, Germany, August 2017
But wait, this post was supposed to sum up the 2017, not to reveal too much of my personal plans. I haven’t really traveled that much in the past year, but I managed to do some trips I really enjoyed, I visited some new places and had some happy returns. I wish I could explore more, but I’m rather content with what the year brought me-travel wise.
Omodos, Cyprus, April 2017
I finally returned to Kyiv (after a decade!) and visited the pretty town of Chernivtsi. I went to England and Montenegro for the first time. I explored some Bohemian tiny towns I always had soft spot for. I enjoyed sunny Cyprus after a long winter. I revisited Italy for the first time since high school and ate pretty much all the food they had in Lombardy. I went on numerous short trips in Armenia. Travel was a true relief this year, and I’m truly grateful for the trips I could take.
Cieszyn, Poland (during a great Polish Travel Bloggers MeetUp)
Other than my whining, this post is about to bring you a collection of the most beautiful (or perhaps the most photogenic) moments of the year. I hope you will enjoy them!
One bonus – people say travel boggers should publish pics of their faces, so here it is. Hiking mode on, of course.
Perast, Montenegro, October 2017
Kotor Bay, Montenegro. Probably the most beautiful place I’ve seen this year.
Kamyanets-Podilsky, Ukraine, June 2017
A happy return to Kyiv, June 2017
Rediscovering Armenia – Tsakhats Kar Monastery, May 2017
Rediscovering Armenia, Noratus Cemetery, summer 2017
A happy return to Italy, Cremona, May 2017
A happy return to Italy – Milan, May 2017
Yerevan Armenia, on the very day when this website went self-hosted, April 2017
I visited Bucharest 5 years ago next week, escaping a dark December for a slightly sunnier, milder one. I was curious, totally unprepared, and truly heartbroken.
The trip was actually supposed to be a couple getaway, but it, well. You know, someone had other plans. I was even hesitating if I should go. I’m very glad I did.
I’m also forever grateful to my Romanian friends who gave me wine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and insisted I actually left the house sometimes, and see the best bits of their city. Without them I would hardly see anything else than the closest bar.
When I think of it today, I’m quite sure their city is one of the most (if not THE most) misunderstood European capital. I’m toying with the idea of coming back ever since I left.
The dream of Bucharest came back to me last week when I accidentally started reading a reportage book on the city written by Margo Rejmer, an extremely talented young Polish writer, who spent around two years living and leaving the place, desperately trying to understand its chaotic ways.
The more I read, the more I needed to see the city again. Refreshing my own photoarchive seemed to be the most efficient way. While browsing through the images, I randomly decided to publish them again. They are 5 long seasons old, but I still like them. I hope you will enjoy these reheated sarmale as well.
Some people say recycling content isn’t too sexy, but I don’t care. Nostalgia is a great excuse, especially around this part of the world.