SLAM

Partner city – Niš

Birthplace of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great, the city of Niš still embodies the combination of exotic East and elegant West.

Nis

Today a modern tourist centre with museums and historical sites that are on European must-see maps, the Serbian city of Niš has been a gate connecting the East and the West ever since it was established. Even nowadays, driving down the roads through Niš is the shortest way to reach the Middle East from Europe, or cities like Sofia and Istanbul from Vienna, Budapest or Prague.

This route has been called “Carigradski drum” (The Road to the Emperor’s city ie. Constantinople/Istanbul) since the Middle Ages. In its rich history, Niš was even the birthplace of a great emperor.

There was always something magical about Niš. Exotic and mystical East and reserved but elegant West are nowhere so well reconciled as they are here.

During the day you can visit its numerous museums and sites of great historical importance, like the Mediana archaeological site (remains of a luxurious Roman settlement), the Niš fortress (best preserved Ottoman fort in this part of the Balkans) or “Ćele kula” (“The Skull tower“, a unique structure built by the order of the Ottoman Hursid pasha using the skulls of Serbian soldiers killed in the Battle of Čegar during the First Serbian uprising), and then, by night, listen to some music at Nišville jazz festival or watch a movie at “Filmski susreti” (Cinematic meetings) film festival.

It was the Celts that have named this old city, and they did it after the river Nišava that still runs through it. In their language, its name is Navissos – the Fairy’s river.

According to one of the legends about the foundation of Niš, it was built “in time before history” by the rocks brought from a nearby Humska čuka (the Hilltop of Hum). But the most glorious in the city’s history was the Roman period.

During that time, Niš was a major cultural, economic and military centre, and the birthplace of Emperor Constantine the Great, who has proclaimed religious tolerance throughout the Roman empire and was the first ruler of Rome to convert to Christianity.

Anyone interested in history and ancient Rome should visit the remains of emperor Constantine’s palace in “Mediana” and revive the time of its fame.

Modern-day Niš is an important centre in Serbia. With a population of more than 250.000 people, it is the third-largest city in the country.

Besides numerous historical sites, you shouldn’t miss walking down the city’s main street nor tasting the Serbian cuisine and having lunch in one of its well-known “kafanas” (Serbian traditional taverns).

Get ready for a wide variety of flavours, great barbecue and abundant food portions with a lot of meat and spices but also don’t miss the local “burek” (a kind of cheese pie), a speciality that has its own festival – “Days of burek” – held every September in Niš.

Niška banja (the Spa of Niš) is located just 10 km far from the city, and Sićevačka klisura (the Sićevo gorge) is also near.

When in the city, you can easily arrange an excursion to a natural environment, relax with friends and enjoy the beauty of the area. If you don’t want to organize it yourself, some of the local tourist agencies will do it for you.

How to get to the city of Constantine the great?

Niš is at a crossroads. It is on the European route E-75 which comes from Hungary and branches in two directions: in the south towards Macedonia and Greece (E-80) and in the west through the valley of Nišava River, towards Bulgaria, Turkey and further towards the Middle East. In Niš, the roads separate to the northwest and southwest of the country.

By plane, over the Podgorica airport with “Montenegro airlines” to all the large European destinations: Frankfurt, Moscow, Dusseldorf, Rome, Vienna, Zurich, London and Paris.

Niš is also well connected through railroads with Serbian and European destinations.

All regional and international buses come and go from the main bus station in the vicinity of the Niš fort.

When you are already here, don’t miss…

Walking along the quay next to Nišava, and coffee in the thick shade of the Niš Fortress.

The main street will take you to the monument to Stevan Sremac and Kalča, where you should definitely turn into the cobble street “Kazandžijsko sokače”, and fell the spirit of old Niš.

Don’t miss talking with the people from Niš and experiencing the warmth and hospitality of the southerners.

Partner city – Sarajevo

Its idyllic mountain setting and diverse heritage make Sarajevo one of Europe’s most intriguing cities. Yet it is its indomitable spirit that makes it truly special.

sarajevo-4505752_1920

If ever a greeting has momentarily filled my head with mixed emotions, it was the one offered to me the other day by a smiling young taxi driver at an airport. “Welcome to Sarajevo,” he announced, and then he sped me off to my hotel in Baščaršija, the city’s cultural and historic heart.

Although Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a name that might seem inextricably linked to war and tragedy, the passing of 20 years has done much to heal this remarkable and resilient city, and tourism is now sharply on the rise. The reason is obvious. Sarajevo is beautiful.

The city is tucked inside a long, thin valley and surrounded on all sides by forested mountains, and almost every crossroads and street corner provides at least a glimpse of an idyllic picture-postcard backdrop. During the worst moments in the city’s history, when its inhabitants were targeted by snipers, this dramatic geography proved to be a terrifying drawback but, thankfully, the spectacular natural beauty of Sarajevo can again be admired and enjoyed.

The best way to do this is to find the highest vantage point possible, and with the recent reopening of Sarajevo’s iconic cable car, a trip up the mountainside has, once again, been made easy. A short walk from Baščaršija brings you to the shiny new cable car station in the foothills of Mount Trebević, one of the peaks which played host to events in the 1984 Winter Olympics. For a return fee of 20 Bosnian marks (approximately £10), this must-do cable car lifts you more than 1,100m in seven minutes, providing breathtaking views every second of the way. At the top, the perspective shifts and changes like a kaleidoscope. In the short space of time that I was on the mountain, I saw the cityscape swelter beneath me under a clear blue sky and then quickly become obscured by twirling strands of mist that seemed to appear from nowhere.

It’s a view which defies comparison with most other European cities. Mosques and minarets decorate the skyline along with the Romanesque towers of Catholic churches and the onion-shaped domes of Orthodox ones. And that is another thing which makes this city so fascinating: it’s a place where east and west meet. On the main pedestrian thoroughfare, Ferhadija, this cultural equator is marked for posterity on the pavement and a sign encourages visitors to take a photo looking first one way up the street and then the other.

The contrast is stark. Austro-Hungarian architecture and a mosaic of western shop signs can be seen in one direction, while, with a simple turn of the head, the outlook abruptly transforms into a Turkish bazaar. On one side of this line, people sit and drink beer at tables on the street, while on the other, there isn’t a drop of alcohol to be found. Instead, you’ll find open-fronted cafes offering strong Bosnian coffee and also, perhaps, a puff on a hookah pipe.

Following Ferhadija in the direction of the coffee will wind you into the heart of Baščaršija and, inevitably, to the enjoyable hubbub nicknamed “Pigeon Square”. My first visit here was to the accompaniment of Bosnian folk music being blasted loudly through outdoor speakers and provided the odd spectacle of several dozen tiny parked cars which looked like vintage Fiat 500s but were, in fact, Yugoslav Zastava. Like the views from Mountain Trebević, the drama in Pigeon Square is ever-changing but one constant is the wonderful ice cream being sold by street vendors in an alluring range of flavours. One scoop will set you back as little as 1€.

For a wider choice of refreshments head for Gazi Husrev-begova, the narrow street walled on one side by the indoor marketplace known as the Old Bezistan. Cafe tables squeeze the street even tighter and a cup of coffee here lasts as long as you can linger over it. A good choice is Café Ramis, which sits on a corner and attracts locals and foreign visitors alike. With windows that open fully onto the street, it actually makes little difference whether you choose to sit in or out but there is something rather lovely about relaxing inside, surrounded by Ottoman geometric patterns and happy people munching cake. The cakes reveal as much about Sarajevo’s diverse heritage as everything else does in this city. Viennese Sachertorte is offered alongside krempita kolač (a Bosnia and Herzegovinan custard slice), as well as something that looked to me very much like a rum baba. Whatever you choose, you won’t be rushed.

Sarajevo has such a good vibe that it can be extremely difficult to grasp the terror of what happened here as recently as the mid-1990s. But the truth is that you don’t need to look far for evidence. Any building which predates that time is likely to be pockmarked with bullet holes, and a memorial garden in Veliki Park, opposite one of Sarajevo’s busiest shopping malls, quietly commemorate the 1,500 children who lost their lives during the 44-month long siege.

Even without factoring in its incendiary role in the first world war, the history of Sarajevo can seem impossibly sad. Despite that, it doesn’t feel like a sad place to visit because when you come here, you get the sense that the city is now looking to the future. And it does that with dignity, resilience, an indomitable spirit and hope. If you want to discover somewhere remarkable, then make your way to Sarajevo.

Partner city – Podgorica

Podgorica is located in central Montenegro. The area is crossed with rivers and the city itself is only 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) north of Lake Skadar. The Morača and Ribnica rivers flow through the city, while the ZetaCijevnaSitnica and Mareza flow nearby. Morača is the largest river in the city, being 70 m or 230 ft wide near downtown, and having carved a 20 m or 66 ft deep canyon for the length of its course through the city.Except for the Morača and Zeta, other rivers have an appearance of small creeks. The richness in bodies of water is a major feature of the city.

Podgorica

In contrast to most of Montenegro, Podgorica lies in a mainly flat area at the northern end of the Zeta plain, at an elevation of 40 m (130 ft). The only exceptions are hills that overlook the city. The most significant is 130.3 m (427 ft) high Gorica Hill, the city's namesake, which rises above the city centre. The other hills include Malo Brdo (“little hill”, 205.4 m or 674 ft), Velje Brdo (“big hill”, 283 m or 928 ft), Ljubović (101 m or 331 ft) and Dajbapska Gora (172 m or 564 ft).

For the most part, these are too steep for development and thus limit the city's expansion, especially to the north. However, urbanization has been encroaching on the lower slopes of the hills since the 1990s. Podgorica city proper has an area of 108 square kilometres (42 sq mi), while actual urbanized area is much smaller.

Podgorica's mixture of architectural styles reflects the turbulent history of the city and country: as one régime replaced another, the corresponding style was introduced.

As part of the Ottoman Empire until 1878, Podgorica has some examples of Ottoman architecture. The oldest parts of the city, Stara Varoš (Old town) and Drač are typical of this, with two mosques, a Turkish clock tower and narrow, winding streets.

When the city was incorporated into Montenegro, the urban core shifted to the other bank of the Ribnica River, where the town developed in a more European style: wider streets with an orthogonal layout. This part of the city is today traditionally regarded as the city centre and is called Nova Varoš (New town)

During World War II, Podgorica was almost razed to the ground, being bombed over 70 times. After liberation, rebuilding began as in other cities of the communist-ruled SFRY. Mass residential blocks were erected, with a basic designs typical of Eastern bloc countries. All that part of the city on the right bank of the Morača River was built this way.

The main contemporary traffic arteries were laid out during this period, which extended the orthogonal street layout of the city centre, to the south and west. Residential and infrastructural developments in the SFRY era have mostly shaped the layout of today's Podgorica and accommodated the unprecedented population growth that followed World War II.

In an effort to create a recognizable and modern state capital, city officials are routing significant investments in the city's public spaces. Thus, the city has gained entirely new squares and some monuments. New landmarks include the Hristovog Vaskrsenja orthodox temple and the Millennium Bridge, the main feature of the Podgorica skyline.

Partner city – Tirana

Tirana, the heart and capital of Albania, like all other European metropolises has never-ending movement and energy. With its clubs, bars, cafes, and taverns, Tirana is worth discovering by both day and night. The hospitality shown towards tourists is something that will mark your journey not only in Tirana but also all over the country. There are different thoughts regarding the origin of the name of the city. Some think that it relates to Tyrrenia (a name of Etruscan origins), while others believe that it relates to the word Theranda (harvest), or to the Tirkan (a castle at the foot of Mount Dajti).

Tirana

Your own journey might begin by visiting the museums and the key spots such as Sheshi Skanderbeg, where you will be able to see the Mosque of Ethem Bey (built between 1798 and 1812) and the 35 m high Kulla e Sahatit (the Watch Tower), built-in 1822 with a San Marco style cupola. Next, you can visit the famous mosaic uncovered on the floor of an old Roman lodge. Its centre configures the walls of the castle of the Roman emperor Justinian (A.D. 520).

The monumental Tomb of Kapllan Pasha and the Ura e Tabakave (a bridge constructed at the beginning of the 19th century, located on Bulevardi Zhan DArk) are also worth visiting. As a capital, Tirana has the country finest museums, theatres, and galleries representing the national arts. A visit to the National History Museum, the Archeological Museum, the Natural Science Museum, the private Mezuraj Museum, and the National Gallery of the Arts will leave wonderful memories.

You can also pass a pleasant evening in the National Theatre or the Opera and Ballet Theatre. For dining, Tirana offers both a rich traditional cuisine and a variety of foreign fares, from Italian to Chinese, or even Indian. There are also several clubs and restaurants on Mount Dajti to discover and enjoy. The mountain is reachable by cable car, which provides a fantastic view of the city. In the Tirana region, you may also visit the castles of Petrela and Preza, as well as some natural attractions, such as Pellumbas Cave, Shkalla e Tujanit, and more.

Partner city – Sinop

It is believed that Sinop, lying at the northernmost tip of a peninsula extending from the Anatolian landmass into the Black Sea, derived its name from the Queen of the Amazons, Sinope, who lived there once upon a time. According to another story, Zeus, the King of Gods was so enchanted by the beauty of the nymph Sinope, the daughter of the River God Asopus that he settled here in the earthly locale commensurate with her beauty and the city was named after her.

Sinop

Sinop owes its diverse cultural richness to its beautiful natural harbour-perfectly sheltered and calm, a haven from the tempestuous Black Sea. The strategic importance of Sinop Harbour brought Sinop to the fore as a centre of trade across millennia. The city’s strategic importance, however, led to successive conquests, and each civilization that made Sinop it's own adorned the city according to its own fashion, building fortresses, churches, temples, and mosques and its various quarters. 

The cultural richness of Sinop is so extensive that almost every historical building has the marks of more than one civilisation. Foremost of them all is Sinop Fortress, which has provided diverse services to various civilisations during its four millennia of history. The walls of the fortress demarcate the initial area of settlement and bear the marks of all the civilisations that have passed through the city. The fortress served primarily for defensive purposes, and during the reign of the Seljuk Sultans, a citadel was added. The builders of the citadel reused the ruins of antique structures, incorporating a fascinating tapestry of columns and capitals into the new walls.

The Ottoman Sultans used the citadel as a shipyard, building the most powerful man-of-war of the era. In 1887 the citadel was converted into a dungeon. The external walls and the sea lying beyond secured the prison against escape attempts. About the same time, a public bathhouse (hammam) was added to meet changing needs. As in the Ottoman Period, the citadel was used as a prison also during the early years of the Republic. It is now open to visitors and hosts cultural activities.

Partner city – Sofia

Bulgaria’s capital has a lot of stories to tell, and each historic attraction will give you a new perspective on Sofia’s complicated past. Take the churches here that have spent several centuries of their existence as mosques, the overbearing soviet architecture or the Roman history that is still being uncovered and blends with the modern city.

Sofia

Many of the buildings you’ll see are from the Bulgarian Revival in the late-19th century, when the country reclaimed its independence from the Ottomans. And always to the southwest looms the monumental Vitosha Mountain. Vitosha Boulevard is Sofia’s main shopping street. A pedestrianized thoroughfare, its main part runs from the Saint Nedelya Church to the grand National Palace of Culture. Vitosha Boulevard is lined with comfortable cafés to sit in and engage in some people watching. If you’re hungry, you can have lunch or dinner at an Irish pub, an Italian restaurant or a Chinese fast food place. Not far from Vitosha Boulevard, along Graf Ignatiev Street, is Slaveykov Square, well known for its open-air book market.

Browse the dozens of stalls selling all kinds of literature in a multitude of languages, from romantic novels to political and scientific volumes. Sofia is one of Europe’s most ancient capitals. Originally established by the Thracians, it was later an important city of the Roman Empire; Emperor Constantine famously referred to it as “My Rome”. A large part of Sofia’s ancient heritage is still preserved. The most prominent example is the red- bricked Hagia Sophia (Sveta Sofia) Church from the 6th century which gave its name to the city itself. Make sure you visit the church’s underground crypt to see Roman frescoes and artifacts. Saint George’s Rotunda is even older than the Hagia Sophia Church and bears the title of the oldest extant building in Sofia. Dating to the 4th century, its unusual cylindrical structure is now curiously nested in the courtyard of the Sheraton Hotel, Ministry of Education and Presidency edifices.

Many locals still don’t know that Sofia has a partially preserved Roman amphitheatre. It’s not easy to find though – its ruins are now mainly inside the Arena di Serdica hotel. Ask at the reception and they will be glad to let you in to see the amphitheatre for free. Being on the underground level of a hotel and knowing that gladiators fought on this very spot is a surreal feeling. How many capital cities around the world boast a full-sized mountain right on the outskirts? Vitosha is not only the most prominent feature of Sofia’s landscape, but also an attractive destination for nature lovers.

In summer, you can embark on an entertaining trek up to the highest peak Cherni Vrah (2290 m) or to the stone river of the Golden Bridges (Златните мостове, Zlatnite mostove); in winter, you may want to head to the Aleko winter sports centre to check out the quality ski runs.

Partner city – Sassari

Sassari is the second-largest city in Sardinia with a population of 122,000; it is also one of the oldest settlements in the city and has a great deal of history and important cultural establishments. Located in the northwest region of Sardinia, this city is actually the fifth largest municipality in Italy and has a large economy based on tourism and the services industry.

Sassari, Italy

Although findings have dated settlements in Sassari to the Neolithic Age, the main settling of the city occurred during the Middle Ages. Throughout this time period, the ruling of the city changed hand numerous times as conflicts raged throughout Sardinia. As time progressed, Sassari developed and grew in size and now stands as the main city in the northern region of the island.

Sassari, Italy panoramic

As a tourist destination, Sassari has a lot of historical buildings and monuments, but it also benefits from a great location and is an ideal base from which to explore northern Sardinia. From this city, you can visit the coastal regions and find some simply stunning beaches.