Our Eastern Europe Itinerary
The bits that we’ve booked anyway. And some thoughts on what the rest of it might look like.
Eastern Europe has always been a part of the world that I’ve been really curious about. I kind of like the fact that it’s traditionally been thought of as the poor cousin of Western Europe. Of course, there are loads of reasons for that, but regardless, Hungary is just as European as France; Albania is just as European as Portugal. Or they should be anyway.
My curiosity was deepened, rather than quenched, by visits to Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and the Czech Republic. You could argue about how ‘Eastern’ these countries actually are, but the semantics don’t really matter. What matters more is the uniqueness of their culture, history and lifestyle, and that’s what really attracts me to the region.
So when we were deciding where the best places to explore on our upcoming backpacking trip, this was top of my list for those very reasons. Oh, and our pennies will go a bit further there too.
Here is a bit of an insight into where we have booked to go, and where the wind might eventually take us.
Budapest – city of dreams. I fell in love with Budapest when I first visited in 2014, and have been dying to go back ever since. Couple that with the fact that it’s a really easily accessible gateway to Eastern Europe, it seemed like an obvious choice for a starting point.
The fact that the city has just about everything you would want for a short break means that it was always going to be a stop on our route, but the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that it’s perfect as our first stop. So perfect, actually, that we’ve decided to take a full week here to ease us into the backpacker lifestyle. Bring on a week of meat-heavy cuisine, thermal baths, ruin bars, amazing architecture, and stunning scenery.
The only downside (and the fact that I count this as a downside show just how difficult my life is right now) is that I really want to visit Budapest in the Winter. Who knows, I guess. Never say never…
Everybody knows that the Adriatic coastline in Croatia is stunning. I’ve visited a tiny section of it, and we’ll be returning. But by all accounts that I’ve read, Zagreb is kind of a must-do as well. The problem is, it’s kind of stuck out there on its own. You know that massive inland bit of Croatia that you never think of when you think of Croatia? Yep, that’s where the capital is.
We’re still visiting, of course. It just means that, like its geography, Zagreb will be slightly separate from the rest of our Croatia itinerary. When I found out it was a breeze to get there from Budapest (€9 direct train – yes please! 6.30am departure – I suppose so, if we must), it was a cert to make it into our itinerary. Feel free to spam us with Zagreb tips, please!
Three capital cities of three beautiful countries to get us going – bang, bang, bang. That’s how we do it.
When we visited Slovenia last year as part of our honeymoon, we had every intention of travelling into Ljubljana for the day (we didn’t actually stay here), but never made it. Everything that I had seen, heard, or read about Ljubljana made it sound mighty appealing. It sounds like it might just be one of my favourite cities, but we were staying right on Lake Bled last year, and just had such a good time there that the capital never even got a look in. We did promise ourselves that we’d come back to Slovenia, and make sure to stop off in Ljubljana to make up for ghosting it that last time.
And that’s just what we’re doing. A week in the capital to kick-start the Slovenian leg of our adventure sounds like just the way to make up for missing out on it last year.
Lake Bohinj, Slovenia
Another one that we didn’t manage to pry ourselves away from Lake Bled to visit last year. And another reason why we’re going back. While Bled might have the fairytale church on the tiny island, Bohinj is apparently a far more impressive lake. And it has the mountains.
We love being near, or by, or in the water, so can’t wait to visit Lake Bohinj. We’ll spend a couple of days here to switch off and dive into nature. Probably literally.
Lake Bled, Slovenia
Because we didn’t get enough last time. In fact, I don’t think we’ll ever get enough of this place. It holds a real special significance for us now, having played such a big part in our honeymoon last year. But even without that, it’s a place worth visiting time and time again. The main attraction is just the whole place itself. The lake, the church, the castle, the backdrop – everything about it is just dreamy. The view never gets old. Every time we came out of our hotel, it took our breath away a little bit. You’d think it’s something you get used to. You don’t really – not over the course of a few days anyway.
Our time in Bled actually played a big part in our decision to go travelling full time. The pace that we took it at, the freedom that it offered us, the calmness that we felt in such stunning surroundings – it all just affirmed the fact that we want to get out and see more of the world. We’ll be back here for a few nights over our first wedding anniversary. Because we’re like that.
We’re actually staying in a 6-star glamping resort this time around, just to mix things up a little bit. It looks amazing, so keep your eyes peeled towards the end of September for some lovely (hopefully) photos and anecdotes.
Piran is probably the jewel of Slovenia’s tiny coastline. And it looks like it’s a world away from Ljubljana, or even Bled or Bohinj. I guess it looks a lot like a Mediterranean coastal town because it is one. It looks like Slovenia were right to push for that tiny bit of coastline that they now call their own because Piran looks like another string added to an already impressive bow.
We will only stop here for a couple of days but from what I can tell, it will just be the cherry on our Slovenian cake. Ljubljana – modern, yet traditional city; Bohinj & Bled – stunning scenery and surroundings; Piran – class coastal town. I’m looking forward to seeing and feeling how different this is from the rest of the country, as well as seeing how much it borrows from its Venetian and Croatian influences. Pass me a pivo.
This is another one that I visited in 2014 and fell in love with. Istria’s quaint, coastal town of Rovinj is just a delight. Everything seems to slow down here, and everyone seems cool with that. The cobbled streets of the old town bring you back in time, and the fabulous church of Saint Euphemia sitting at the old town’s peak is like something out of a postcard. I’m sure it’s on loads of actual postcards right enough, but living life in Rovinj does just seem like living life out of a postcard. If that doesn’t sound appealing, it’s because I’m not doing it justice.
Rovinj is the kind of place you could go back to over and over again, which is exactly what we’re doing. A good friend of ours owns a place in Rovinj and is kindly allowing us to stay there, so we’re leaving our time here open-ended and will continue on down the coast as and when it takes our fancy.
And then the rest…
Wherever that may be. That’s all we’ve got booked so far. And we kind of like it that way. The idea of being able to take a bit longer in one place or another is mighty appealing, as is being able to take ourselves off to somewhere we’ve never heard of because we meet somebody that recommends it. Although I’m constantly fighting with myself, because I love the planning and research bit, and particularly love being able to find somewhere ace to stay without breaking the bank. I think that’ll be harder on a whim, but I guess this whole thing is about growing and learning, so…
We haven’t got a set itinerary beyond here, but the idea is to pretty much spend at least some time in the rest of the Balkan countries. We’ll head down Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, then into Montenegro via Bosnia & Herzegovina. I’m probably more excited by the latter two than by Dalmatia, but I’m certainly open-minded. Later in the trip, we’ll venture on into Albania and the Republic of Macedonia (Ohrid looks just dreamy), and then North through Kosovo and Serbia. It’s probably coming into winter at that point, and, oh look – Budapest isn’t too far to the North. Like I said, never say never.
We really don’t know exactly where we’ll stop in all these countries and are absolutely more than open to suggestions so please send us any recommendations, articles, tips or advice if you’ve been or know a bit about the area.
There is also talk of us going transatlantic and visiting some family in Toronto, and maybe exploring a bit more of Canada in the cold and dark of Winter. That would be an adventure, wouldn’t it? Watch this space, as we watch our bank account dwindle and try to convince ourselves that we can totally afford flights to Canada.
All part of the adventure. And in two weeks, that adventure will become a reality.