My Balkan Adventure 2014: The TL;DR Version

I’ve already written shitloads about this trip – mostly long, rambling diary entries, with some photoblogs for people who can’t/don’t want to read. However, for those with limited patience, here is a brief summary of everything that happened.

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Belgrade, Serbia (4 nights)

Summary: Just about small enough to walk around but confusing to navigate; ugly; imperious; a city for residents and not tourists.
Highs:
Hanging out with floppy-haired genius friend I hadn’t seen for over a year, Taj Mahal-esque figure of St Sava’s Cathedral, overcoming the language barrier to (kind of) discuss sport with local man
Lows: Existential crisis post-goodbye as I lurched into the UNKNOWN of solo travel, nearly getting lost having been dropped right outside my destination on the first night, realising navigation would involve reading Cyrillic.

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Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina (4 nights) ***Winner of favourite city award***

Summary: Vibrant; rejuvenated; pretty; looking forward without forgetting to look back at the siege.
Highs: Absolutely banging klepe (pasta/sauce dish) in the Old Town, watching the world’s happiest Austrian guy proficiently playing bongos in nightclub, getting impromptu tour from local I befriended
Lows: Not being able to see the abandoned bobsled track in the mountains, plum rakija (bleugh), impoverished children

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Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina (2 nights)

Summary: Naturally beautiful; tonnes of ruined buildings; excellent hostel vibe; relatively touristy.
Highs: Invading abandoned sniper tower, the companionship of the Sniper Tower 6, admiring Thibaut Courtois lookalike from close range
Lows: Nearly chundering in a bar because of too many overly-sweet ciders, being aggressively harassed for money by children at bus stop, getting horribly lost on way to hostel

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Dubrovnik, Croatia (2 nights)

Summary: Extremely busy and touristy; very expensive (for the Balkans); very beautiful; limited availability of well-located hostels with dorms (I got a private).
Highs: Prawns, having my own room, fantastically photogenic views
Lows: Thinking I’d had 100 euros stolen, THE EXPENSE OF EVERYTHING, too many Game of Thrones tourists

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Kotor, Montenegro (4 nights)

Summary: Very small; very photogenic; not too much to do; fairly busy.
Highs: Free sangria at hostel, reaching top of mountainside fort, being reunited with Fabian (world’s happiest Austrian from Sarajevo)
Lows: Crushing boredom on Day 4, shit music at club, nearly dying on reaching the fort

[Service station near Kukes, Albania (15 minutes)]

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Pristina, Kosovo (2 nights)

Summary: Not as run down as expected; still pretty ugly; points of interest limited; very very few tourists.
Highs: Infiltrating national football stadium, gaining insane number of indie points for simply setting foot in Kosovo, stunning cathedral
Lows: Accidentally forgetting to bring wallet to restaurant, listening to middle-aged sex pest blogger lech on local women, getting stared at by locals

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Ohrid (5 nights) [photoblog of abandoned hotel]

Summary: Utterly beautiful (cutting that slideshow down to 5 pics was seriously hard); incredible frescoes; not too many tourists.
Highs: Amazing crepe (how sweet the taste…), beautiful monastery, awesome hostel owner
Lows: Nearly freezing to death on the boat trip excursion, being harassed by people offering boat trips, nearly freezing to death at night in the hostel

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Skopje (2 nights)

Summary: More like a giant construction site than a city; full of statues; sprawling and confusing to navigate; bustling.
Highs: FINDING AND EATING VEGETABLES, trileche cake, discussing English non-league football with taxi driver
Lows: Exhaustion, being harassed by hat vendor, having to wake up at 5am to get the bus to Greece

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Thessaloniki (4 nights) – ***Winner of best food award***

Summary: Massive; very busy; tonnes of history; surprisingly limited hostel options.
Highs: Lots of ancient ruins and museum time, outstanding food, mostly amazing weather
Lows: FUCKING ACCORDION-PLAYING CHILDREN, being harassed by guys forcing you to pay for wristbands you don’t even want, nearly chundering very much in public due to bingeing on water

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Plovdiv (3 nights)
***Runner-up in favourite city award***

Summary: Gorgeous, distinctive Old Town; mish-mash of architectural styles outside (Austrian, Communist); lots of ruins; very uneven cobblestones.
Highs: Discovering all the incredible street art hidden behind the main streets, really interesting free walking tour, having enormous room to self
Lows: Fairly shit weather, not having enough time there, Communist architecture 😦

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Sofia (1 night)

Summary: Prettier than it appears at first sight; threadbare trams; lots of pickpockets; getting in touch with Roman history.
Highs: Helpful people, interesting free walking tour, having enormous room to self
Lows: Being sexually harassed by a baby at the airport, shit weather, rubbish airport

And obviously if you want any elaboration, you’ll have to read the diaries. Go on, I’ve linked them all in the city titles!

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