Wednesday, January 22, 2014

FAREWELL, BALKANS!

It has taken me seven months and 44 posts to cover our trip to the Balkans in May-June 2013, perhaps the most adventurous trip we have undertaken to date. Before our trip, we knew no one else personally who had traveled past the Adriatic coast countries (Croatia and Slovenia) of this region, so we were on our own.

When we began planning, we reached out through TripAdvisor for advice about the more unfamiliar places (Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Albania), sure that someone out there had done a similar driving trip. In his query, Bob asked about safety issues and noted that we were "adventurous travelers." Initial responses didn't do much to calm my nerves:


Safety? do you watch news? Serbia is in constant conflict with Kosovo and there is always some stuff happening. Also, Kosovo is not the friendliest place on Earth and I would definitely avoid it. Adventurous can be really bad in this case: knew a UK girl who almost got abducted and sold to red district house there. Barely reached UK embassy or consulate in Pristina. Rest is fine but learn basics of Slavic languages and some Albanian as very few will speak English south of Croatia

I very much doubt you will be allowed to take a Croatian rental car where you want to go. Albania and Kosovo are usually off-limits.


I gather there are a lot of demonstrations and unrest going on in Macedonia at the moment.


 Be aware that you wont be allowed to enter serbia from kosovo if you entered kosovo from any other state than serbia.so you would have to get back in macedonia or montenegro to enter serbia

Some later responses came back a little more positive, like this one:
First of all, you are about to have the trip-of-a-lifetime. My wife and I spent five weeks in the Balkans last summer in rented car and it was incredible. 
And one or two had some helpful insights, like this one:
Croatia will be double-to-triple the cost of all of the other countries in the region, while being 5x to 10x more crowded, the worst of both worlds. Croatia is incredibly beautiful with amazing coastline and historical sites and is flooded with Americans and Western Europeans, thus the high prices and large crowds.
For the most part, however, we were on our own. We figured that with good pre-planning (i.e., all hotel reservations made in advance, arrangements made for a good car with a GPS device, a couple of private tour guides booked in Serbia and Kosovo, a good map purchased from Amazon, and a detailed itinerary), we would be fine.
It's a little hard to see, but our route is shown by a black line highlighted in yellow:


While not everything went as planned (i.e., the GPS part), by the end of our fourteen days in the Balkans we felt like seasoned travelers, having successfully circumnavigated the region, almost always sans GPS but with the aid of our excellent map and friendly, helpful residents.

We had explored eight individual countries and two additional political regions that may someday become independent countries: Vojvodina in Northern Serbia and Republika Srpska in Northern and Southern Bosnia-Herzegovina. We had only positive experiences with the natives. We stayed healthy in spite of Bob's penchant for exotic (aka roadside) eating. We learned a lot about a region of the world we knew embarrassingly little about, and we came to appreciate not only their turbulent, violent, recent history, but also their rich heritage of cooperation and diversity. We actually had FUN getting lost. We came home with new attitudes, insights, and opinions.

I'd call that a very successful trip!

For another blog that includes wonderful information about travel in the Balkans, see A Travelogue by Brock and Tanj, written by a couple who contacted us for information after we made our trip, and who have since completed their own driving trip of the beautiful Balkans.

3 comments:

  1. A memorable trip, for sure! Can't wait to see what you and Bob do next!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Absolutely a fascinating trip. You also have made it come to life with your narrative and photo-journalism. Thanks for a great armchair experience!

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