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The Balkans
Topic Started: Sat Feb 27, 2016 12:49 pm (762 Views)
mburucuja

Looks like through the magic of cancelled plane tickets and incompetent airlines I might be going to SW Europe instead of Korea next month.

Anyone have advice? Must-dos? I really just started researching this yesterday so I know almost nothing. :)
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Matsunoki
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We really enjoyed Sofia, Bulgaria! We mostly wandered but made sure to check out the big cathedral and an Orthodox Russian church near it and some Roman ruins. There's a monastery that looks really cool just outside of the city but we didn't make it there. We liked the food a lot.

It was one of our more challenging places we've gone to since so few people spoke English and all of the signs were in the Cyrillic alphabet (but our maps were in the Latin alphabet!). Thankfully our familiarity with Greek letters from studying engineering plus quickly learning a few other common letters filled in enough blanks for us to find out way without much trouble. Except that time we looked for a restaurant called Divaka (btw, go there if you go to Sofia!) and couldn't find it until we used the specific address. It turned out we'd passed it a few times because the font the sign used made the Cyrillic 'D' look too much like an 'A'! So that's one of my bigger pieces of advice - look for street numbers rather than signs!

We were also there 6 months after they joined the EU so the sign thing may not be as much of an issue now and other things may be easier to work with too. But even back then it was a good time :)

OMG how could I forget??? Nodding and shaking one's head to indicate yes or no is the opposite there! Even knowing it we'd get thrown off when a waitress would grin and shake her head, and then go get us more water or whatever we'd asked for :P And you could never be 100% sure of what the body language indicated since it was always possible they were using our version because of knowing we were foreigners.

Aw shoot now I want to go back!
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mburucuja

I took a semester of Russian, so Cyrillic isn't a problem. :)
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mburucuja

Ticket booked! I'll be flying into Sarajevo and out of Belgrade, probably hitting Croatia (and possibly elsewhere? Montenegro? Slovenia?) too. Have you been to those places? I'd love to do Sofia someday, but I guess that'll be another trip. Or I could fly from Sarajevo to Istanbul (SO CHEAP with Pegasus) and do the 2 night train route back to Belgrade...
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Matsunoki
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mburucuja
Wed Mar 2, 2016 12:55 am
Ticket booked! I'll be flying into Sarajevo and out of Belgrade, probably hitting Croatia (and possibly elsewhere? Montenegro? Slovenia?) too. Have you been to those places? I'd love to do Sofia someday, but I guess that'll be another trip. Or I could fly from Sarajevo to Istanbul (SO CHEAP with Pegasus) and do the 2 night train route back to Belgrade...
Awesome! I haven't been to any of the places besides Sofia though, but I bet you'll have a great time in any of them.

As for doing the flight to Istanbul and taking the train back, I think it depends on how much time on the train you'd have and if that's an asset to you (trains being cool vs if it's just another form of getting around) and your general travel style. I will say our train from Istanbul to Sofia (keeping in mind this may be better now, but check seat61.com for sure) was fine in our room but the bathrooms were horrible. The border crossing was also an experience and while I don't think you'd mind it, it's worth noting. Travel-style wise, if you like jumping around a bunch it's a good option but I really tend towards parking myself in a city for a week for trips so tbh for me it would be terrible but I know for many it'd be great (in thinking about this response I realized our trip in Germany was very jumpy around but we were driving ourselves so we weren't tied to train or bus schedules which I think is what made that work for us).
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mburucuja

Trains are cool, but also the route back from Istanbul would be night trains so I wouldn't be losing much of any time actually in places. I'm typically a "wander the city for a week" kind of traveler, but I'm getting weirdly into researching crazy itineraries this time around? I'm going to have to do at least a little jumping around though, since I'm flying out of a different city. Everything is just close enough to give the illusion that it's convenient. Like, I know I want to visit Mostar. Mostar is about 2 hours from Sarajevo, so totally do-able as a daytrip. But Mostar is also 2 hours away from Dubrovnik which is supposed to be amazing. Then from Dubrovnik, I could either backtrack to Mostar and Sarajevo and take a daytime, slooooow bus to Belgrade, or I could head north to Split and Zagreb/south to Montenegro and then take a night train to Belgrade, and if I go to Zagreb, then I'm only about an hour away from Ljubljana, which means I'm 30 minutes from Lake Bled, etc.

I've honestly never done a trip at this pace without a group though, and I think the group aspect is most of what made it so bad, so maybe I'll give it a go? I also verified that there are tons of semi-affordable flights from Sarajevo to Belgrade, so if I fall in love with Sarajevo or whatever I can just fly to Belgrade a day or two before my flight home. Renting a car would probably be about the same price too.
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mburucuja

Leaving 30 hours! I booked 2 nights in Sarajevo and still don't know what I want to do afterwords. Leaning towards Montenegro?
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mburucuja

Ok, so I fell in love with Bosnia and stayed there until my last day because I flew home from Belgrade. Sarajevo is interesting and intense. Mostar is fascinating. Konjic reminds me a lot of my Paraguayan town. The countryside is stunningly beautiful. I learned so much and I'm still processing everything. I feel like I was there for a lot more than a week, and I want to move there within a few years.
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