Europe Map of my 6 week Balkan itinerary

Published on June 6th, 2016

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Hi-ho, Hi-ho – to the Balkans I Go!

Goodness, more than 6 months since I returned from “The Forbidden Land” (Cuba). Clearly a record for travel inertia since I set off on my ‘Great Leap’ from Seattle to Vietnam nearly 5 years ago. Part of the “problem” is how (still, after more than 2 years) sublimely comfy I am here on the tippy-top of this mountain in Ecuador. Living in the heart of a freekin’ UNESCO World Heritage site will do that to ya. The moment I step outside my door onto the cobbled street, Cuenca never ceases to enchant. Thus my ambivalence to hop in a silver cigar-tube and fly off to explore some new foreign land every time I turn around.

Ah, but that’s soon about to change.

Nope, I’m not about to jump continents (again) and resettle in another corner of the globe (that would be ludicrous, for it honestly doesn’t get much better than the perpetually spring-like climate, the friendly people, and the ever fascinating carnival that surrounds me here in Cuenca). But what I AM now seriously poised to do is…

Jump into said silver cigar-tube (or three) and head off for 6 weeks to add more than a half dozen countries to my 40+ travel dance-card.  And the target of my latest attack of wanderlust?  It’s right there in the title of this post:

Ballooning in Cappadocia, Turkey: on the bucket list for my adventure in the Balkans.

Ballooning in Cappadocia, Turkey -IF I have any rubles left when I get there!

Eastern Europe. The Balkans. And of course Turkey.

I’ve been researching my brains out for weeks now, and I thiiink I’ve narrowed it down to…

At first I planned to start in Athens ( I figured – why not island-hop across the Aegean Sea to Turkey?)  But then changed my mind and started eyeing Venice as my launch point (easy to take a ferry or bus to Slovenia and then work my way south through the Balkans to Turkey). Both cities (Athens & Venice) I’ve visited before – long ago when, as a single mom I dragged my two young daughters off to bounce around western Europe for 6 months while I went to school in both Avignon, France and Perugia, Italy. But I surely wouldn’t mind a redux to see how they’ve changed in three decades.

Ah but best I back up a little here.

One of the SUPREME gifts I happen to have for this particular travel adventure is that my Seattle chum Peter (who recently visited me here in Cuenca) happens to be a veteran pilot for American Airlines and – he offered to give me TWO BUDDY PASSES to get me to and from Europe! Needless to say that saves me quite the tidy bundle on airfare, and allows me to realize my dream of exploring the Balkans sooner, and travel around much longer.

The only downside is that the buddy passes require me to travel only on “American metal” ( i.e. no flight shares with British Airways, etc.)  Strictly American Airlines planes. Thus my initial choices above of heading first into Athens or Venice (both AA destinations) and then grabbing European transport options (cheapo flights on Turkish Air or Ryanair, etc. and/or ferries, buses, trains) to hop around Turkey/the Balkans.

The buddy passes also put me totally on standby for all flights.  But as a veteran of 11 hour airport layovers (or better yet, 24 hours so I can grab a geocache in a new country like Taiwan en route to my final destination) I have absolutely no problem with that little wrinkle. Given my somewhat obscure location here beneath the Equator, I’ll need to take a somewhat circuitous route to get to Europe from my adopted home here in the Andes, but the good news is that American flies out of Guayaquil – just 4 hrs. by bus from my front door!

But let’s get back to the drawing boards on where to initially land in Europe…

As I said, both Athens or Venice seemed equally promising when I initially started planning this epic adventure, but I’d seen both cities before so…  Long story short – I discovered another “American metal” gateway: Munich, in Germany – a land of half my ancestry (on my Father’s side, my Mother is Italian) and one which I somehow missed altogether on my romp ’round western Europe those many years ago.

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle – the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle.

So Munich it is. My planned European launching-pad  for all manner of wanderings in eastern Europe come September.

Which of course brings us to my oh so loose and tentative “Plan” of which countries to include, and which to leave out.  For while I have pretty much all the time in the world, alas I only have so much stamina for my favored style of traveling (i.e. backpacking via public buses/trains/ferries, staying in budget hostels, gobbling street-food, and noodling out my next move on the fly).

Not nearly the ease of a packaged tour, with all the logistics pre-arranged and set-in-stone, with comfy hotels and a/c buses to whisk me to ‘n fro the most proclaimed tourist sights every blessed day.  Nope, for me such tours are far too predictable and limiting, and I much prefer traveling by the seat-of-my-pants.  But doing so at my dodderin’ age does tend to wear me out after a few weeks.  Plus I’ve long found that after about a month or so – gawking at ever more amazing sights day after day after day – everything starts to blur and I simply can’t digest it all.

Thus I’ve necessarily self-limited this adventure to 6 weeks at most.

And that in turn, limits just how many corners I can reasonably get to (much less actually explore and enjoy) in 40-odd days.  Indeed, the choices in that part of the globe are so diverse and temptingly tightly-knit that at one point I had no less than *ELEVEN* countries jammed into my loose itinerary.

But I honestly have never been keen on frenetically sprinting from country to country merely to drop some imaginary check mark on an even more imaginary “bucket list”. So – though I can’t guarantee I won’t wake up one morning in say… Salzburg, and opt to scoot over to Prague or Budapest just to take a peek – my rough “Plan” at present is to take in just 8 different nations in a north-to south trail from Munich (with a quick overnight or two in Austria) to Slovenia to Croatia (with a dash into Boznia Herzegovina, along with a day trip to the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro), and finally to Turkey. Then wrap it up by flying out of Athens to begin the long (and unpredictable standby flight status) back to Ecuador.

Zoom in on the map and click the red markers to see details of what I’ve got planned for the various locales along my route – the map is interactive!

 

Any way you cut it, ’tis quite the ambitious plan. But hey – I am nothing if not ever game for an epic adventure. And this one promises to easily qualify for that – plus no doubt boatloads of serendipity too!

Neuschwanstein Castle, Munich, Germany: the launch-pad for my epic adventure in the Balkans Ballooning in Cappadocia, Turkey: on the bucket list for my adventurer in the Balkans

Stay tuned here as I continue to research (among my favorite chores of traveling) what to do and see among the many corners of eastern Europe that I plan to dip into (e.g. hunting for truffles in Istria? Um, yup, sign me up for THAT!  Ballooning over the fairy chimneys at Cappadocia in Turkey? Youbetcha – IF I still have any rubles left by the time I end up there in October).

And meanwhile – do post any ideas you might have for not-miss things to do/see along my route.



About the Author

Off-the-beaten-path travel is my passion,and I’ve always lived life “like-a-kid-in-a-candy-store” – eager to sample as many flavors as I can. Indeed, my life motto has long been: This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!



13 Responses to Hi-ho, Hi-ho – to the Balkans I Go!

  1. Burt says:

    We spent 3 months in Turkey earlier this year. Started with a (guided photography tour) around the country for 2 weeks, but had to skip the Eastern part due to terrorist activity and active threats of kidnapping Westerners. We then spent the next 9 weeks based in a home exchange in Istanbul (the owners of that apartment stayed in our Cuenca home).

    Lots to do, and we were only finally feeling we had seen everything we wanted in that final week.

    For our impressions, I encourage reading our blog from that trip —

    http://www.mindstormphoto.com/category/turkey/

  2. When I first saw the title, my thought was: learn Cyrillic. It doesn’t take long and makes getting around a lot easier. But then I looked more closely and I think you’re not visiting places that use it!

    I say this as… Would you believe I’m actually in Bulgaria these days? If you end up passing through Sofia, let me know!

    All in all, you’ve got a pretty diverse hit list there, so there will be a lot of variety in those 6 weeks and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!

    • Dyanne says:

      Goodness Ruth – so good to hear from you! And oh so “small world” – you’re no longer in Vietnam but Bulgaria now! Oh dear, oh dear. I may just have to add another red balloon (Sofia) to my map! 😀

      • If it fits in your plans (were you thinking overland or a flight from Montenegro to Turkey?)

        I’m still not sure what I think of Sofia as a city, but I’ve been enjoying hiking in Bulgarian mountains.
        Ruth Elisabeth kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Tết 2016My Profile

        • Dyanne says:

          Everything’s totally open Ruth, but I was thinking a flight from Dubrovnik (I’ll likely do but a day trip to the Bay of Kotor from there) to Istanbul.

          But… I suppose I could instead fly to Sofia, and then another flight to IST. The flights over there seem to be almost as sweetly cheap as our dear, beloved AirAsia, yes? 😉

  3. I can certainly understand your ambivalence to jump onto a plane (even with buddy passes) and jet off to new lands when you’re so enjoying being right where you’re at! But isn’t it fun to start out with a virtual map and start noodling with all the puzzle parts of a new travel itinerary and then fit in the pieces? Ambitious is right but I love your “rough” plan. And, please-oh-please, can I go with you on the balloon ride in Cappadocia? 🙂
    Anita @ No Particular Place To Go kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Put a Cork in it – The Cork Trees of PortugalMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      Indeed Anita, we are mighty privileged to be able to roam the globe as we do. And yes too, a most apt description – much like a giant puzzle, and so much fun to fit them all together. The planning and the dreaming – this, even before the actual trip!

      And yes my dear, trust that I shall save a spot for you right next to me in the basket, so we can rise together amid the dawn over that wondrous Cappadocia landscape!

  4. Four Letter Nerd says:

    Awesome itinerary. No must sees or dos to recommend, just some unsolicited and possibly helpful advice.

    At Plitvice I stayed at one of the two places across the street from one of the park entrances. That decision was easy after learning of 2 benefits. First is nobody stops one from entering the park before the gates open, but you better have a ticket or exit before any park employees show up. Why go early? Photography. The other reason is walking from the lodging 1-2 kms away is on a road with an uncomfortably narrow shoulder, well populated with weeds and sloping off quickly while cars zip by.

    Cruise ships stop at Kotor, but you probably know about planning visits when no/few ships are in port.

    • Dyanne says:

      Yes, I’ve read about the hazards of walking along that road. What was the name of the place you stayed? I’ve heard there’s just 2 hotels inside the park that are a bit pricey but… apparently if you stay there your entry fee is free after the 1st day. So might be worth a bit of a splurge for a single night.

      Also, apparently there’s 2 entrances, some distance apart (Lower and Upper areas of the park), so I’m wondering which entrance might be best to be near. Clearly more research needed (but luckily, I actually enjoy that part) 😉

      • Hotel Bellevue. Little to recommend it except location, cheap secoday day ticket and a better than expected breakfast buffet.

        It’s by the south entrance, which is closer in elevation to the lakes than the north entrance. A shuttle connects both plus points Inside the park.

        • Dyanne says:

          Thanks Bill – will tuck it away for consideration (though I have to laugh – presently bookings.com is showing it as a two-star at nearly $80 for a single – lol, clearly we’re not in Asia anymore!) 😉

          But given my penchant for traveling on-the-fly (a.k.a. rarely any advance reservations), likely I’ll not book anything til I land at Plitvice on the bus. I understand (much like Cuba) there’s often folks at the bus stop that offer a room in their homes. We’ll see…

  5. Stacey says:

    Looks amazing! I’m hoping we will meet up at some point as it looks like I may be skipping Beijing and heading straight to Europe….
    Stacey kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Semana Santa in Antigua, GuatemalaMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      I surely hope so, Stacey. Indeed, it would seem only right we should bump into each other again in some far off corner of the globe – after 2+ years and both gravitating from Chiang Mai to Latin America to…

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