Published on June 6th, 201613
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:
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.
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!
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).