Europe I'm Baaack! (from the Balkans)

Published on October 24th, 2016


*8* Countries – Which Was the Most Memorable?

Whew! 43 Days. 8 Countries (7 whole new countries I’d not before stepped foot in).

I know you’re all anxious for details of my marathon trek though Eastern Europe, but what with more than 3,000 pics and videos to sort through, it will take weeks – likely months for me to peck individual TL posts on all I saw, ate, and did. So meanwhile, I thought I’d start by simply listing each locale I visited and – for the sake of quick ‘n dirty – dare to evaluate each place and assign a simple numeric to how each compared to the others I so briefly explored.

The truth is – while I feel extremely blessed and privileged to roam this wondrous Planet at all, even with the best of pre-trip digital research and planning – when one’s feet actually hit the ground in a far-off land – some locales prove surprisingly less impressive than expected, while others (often due to some small bit of serendipity and/or personal interaction) stand out as exceedingly memorable. And though I hesitate to attach some arbitrary rating system on entire nations (given that I barely sampled any of them in depth), nonetheless, if I were forced to list the many locales I passed through in terms of “memorable”, this is how it might look.

Of 19 locales that I at least spent a full night/day in – on a scale of 1-5 in (utterly subjective) “memorablity”:

MUNICH, GERMANY – Memorability Rating: 3

Bavarian pretzels in Munich, GermanyMunich probably deserves a bit higher rating (if only for the delish food!) but suffice, likely a smidge of jet lag combined with abysmal wifi at a pricey hotel the first night colored my initial take on Germany. Also, I must say – after living amid the supremely warm/friendly culture of Latin America these past near three years now – I couldn’t help but detect a decidedly more stand-offishness among the folks in Munich than I’m used to here in Ecuador. Far more nuance to share in a separate Munich TL post, but for now, let’s just say that I love the Bavarian food and (more memorable if sobering) I’m grateful for the chance to finally pay my respects at the Dachau WWII concentration camp memorial.

HALLSTATT, AUSTRIA – Memorability Rating: 4

The magical village of Hallstatt, AustriaTruly magical. Took no less than a bus + train + ferry ride to get there from Salzburg, but trust that I shan’t soon forget the bliss of peering at that uber-charming village as we ferried across the lake at dusk. Unfortunately, my (foolish) lack of pre-booked accommodation proved a pricey mistake ($150 for the LAST room within 25 miles of Hallstatt!), plus by day 2 the village seemed a tad Disneylandish to me. Indeed, more in a future TL post on the plethora of Asian tourists that abounded there – due no doubt to the fact that China is so rabidly enamored with Hallstatt, they apparently have built an exact replica of it – in CHINA!

SALZBURG, AUSTRIA – Memorability Rating: 3

The "love locks" bridge in Salzburg, AustriaGranted, but a single night/day there, so was able to skim only the thinnest veneer of a no doubt grand European city. It was also about this time (after Munich) that I became convinced that “cities” per se aren’t my favorite cuppa tea in my travels (they all seem to be similar but for a few outstanding sights) and are especially challenging to navigate with but a night or two to explore. As it was, I was enchanted with two things in Salzburg: the bountiful “locks” bridge (I added my own!) plus an incredible dessert “cremeschnitte” that I savored in a tiny pastry shop. Mozart? Um, notsomuch.

LAKE BLED, SLOVENIA – Memorability Rating: 4

Church of the Assumption on the island in Lake Bled, SloveniaThough sadly my photos didn’t turn out quite as well as the many beauties on Flickr, in reality, it truly is a gem of a tranquil spot on the globe. Better yet, I spent a full 3 nights/4 days there in my own tiny apartment with rooftop terrace just a short stroll to the lake.

LJUBLJANNA, SLOVENIA – Memorability Rating: 5+++!

Colorful architecture in Ljubljanna, SloveniaJust 2 nights/3 days there (and one of them, the only day in 44 that it rained) and yet – I fell utterly in LOVE with Slovenia and Ljubljanna in particular. The warmest people, the town, enchanting. Oh my yes, I could definitely see myself teaching EFL in Slovenia for a spell.

MOTOVUN, CROATIA – Memorability Rating: 5+++!

Sunset view from Motovun, Istria, CroatiaGoodness but Motovun might even deserve an extra “+” or two. This tiny haven (an ancient walled-village with a population of less than 600 perched high on a hilltop) not only offers amazing views over the surrounding Istrian countryside (dotted with vineyards and woods filled with TRUFFLES), but its narrow cobbled lanes are verily oozing Old World charm. That I was also able to actually take part in a truffle hunt with 3 incredible truffle-sniffing dogs – oh my, it truly doesn’t get much better than that for a traveler!

PLITVICE LAKES, CROATIA – Memorability Rating: 4

Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes, CroatiaSomewhat surprisingly, not a 5 but a solid 4. No doubt about it, definitely a most uniquely beautiful spot and worth a visit on any Croatia itinerary (I can still recall the perpetual trickling sound of a bazillion large and small waterfalls). But… what can I say? Personally, I can’t give it a 5 given that I’m lucky enough to be from the (U.S.) Pacific Northwest – where waterfalls are ubiquitous.

ZADAR, CROATIA – Memorability Rating: 4

Salutation to the Sun, Zadar, CroatiaThough I never would have expected Zadar to equate in memorability with the legendary Plitvice Lakes, this little corner of Croatia surprised me. I honestly wasn’t expecting much here save for the legendary “Sea Organ” and the “Sun Salutation” (both of which are truly amazing!) But more so – Zadar turned out to be among my favorite places on my Croatia itinerary. Not only was the waterfront a pure delight (and I found two geocaches there), but I rendezvoused with a lad from Cuenca (one of my EFL students, now teaching French in a small town near Zegreb, the capital of Croatia), and the hostel we stayed at turned out to be one of the most remarkable ever.

SPLIT, CROATIA – Memorability Rating: 1

Tacky tourist junk in Split, CroatiaUm yep, Split gets but a 1 in my memorable book. Granted I spent just a single night there, but on the surface, that seemed more than plenty. While (as some websites claim) Split is allegedly “known for its beaches and the fortress-like complex at its center, Diocletian’s Palace…” – my hostel was within steps of the latter palace and… suffice unfortunately, both the waterfront and the entry into the Diocletian complex are verily BURIED in a plethora of trash and tacky souvenir shops. In short, I snapped a bunch of pics of the palace, then high-tailed it out of there early the next morning and headed by bus to…

MOSTAR, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA – Memorability Rating: 3.5

Stari Most bridge, Mostar, Bosnia-HerzegovinaDefinitely worth the side-trip from Split, even if the border crossing (both out of Croatia and into Bosnia) took more than an hour each – both ways. My hostel there proved especially comfy, the famous “Stari Most” bridge truly photogenic, and I had one of my favorite dinners (of all traditional eats) there for less than $9.

DUBROVNIK, CROATIA – Memorability Rating: 3

Peek-a-boo view of Dubrovnik, CroatiaWhy not a 4 or a 5, you may ask? Sorry, but compared to many other spots on the globe that I’ve been lucky enough to visit – imho Dubrovnik is a good bit over-hyped. The city itself, quite attractive, and the views from the famous walls, very pretty. But… what can I say? Perhaps if I’d stuck around and visited some of the islands (though I’m not much of a beach person so that honestly didn’t interest me). Curiously I later met another traveler who felt the same way about Dubrovnik – disappointing. In short, Dubrovnik must be a “YMMV” kind of place.

KOTOR, MONTENEGRO – Memorability Rating: 4

Backstreet detail of Kotor, MontenegroTruly worth a night or two, Kotor is loaded with charm and incredible photo ops. Then again, by day 2, after taking a lovely boat trip to a couple of small islands in Kotor Bay and the nearby village of Perast, suddenly Kotor (even with fewer crowds in the “shoulder” season) seemed so clogged with tourists, it (much like Hallstatt in Austria) felt very Disneylandesque.

LEPETANE, MONTENEGRO – Memorability Rating: 6!!!

Lepetane sunset, MontenegroTiny Lepetane breaks my upper “memorable” limit. If I could give it a 7 or an 8 imo, it wouldn’t be too many.  In a word: pure B.L.I.S.S. Perhaps not for everyone as there’s precious little to do in this bitty lakeside village. But suffice for this (then) travel-weary-after-nearly-a-month-moving-through-6-countries travelnlass, it was just what the doctor ordered. Many more details to come on why, if you ever find yourself in Montenegro you should head straight to Lepetane.

Note also regarding Montenegro – I originally planned a day trip at most to that fair country. But instead, upon finding the wondrous “Apartments Akuku” – that Montenegro “day trip” turned into *6* nights in that spectacularly beautiful land (1 in Kotor, 4 in Lepetane and 1 in the capital, Podgrica as a launch pad for flying to Istanbul).

ISTANBUL, TURKEY – Memorability Rating: 5+++!

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul, TurkeyAnother resounding uber-5! Indeed, THIS is truly an incredible city and my new bff city on the Planet. Furthermore, I spied many private English schools scattered about Istanbul, and wouldn’t mind at all spending a year teaching EFL there so that I could more earnestly explore such an amazing country.

CAPPADOCIA, TURKEY – Memorability Rating: 5+++!

Hot-air ballooning in Cappadocia, TurkeyNo surprise that Cappadocia would also be among my outstanding favorites – the fairy chimney landscape is truly like no other on the Planet. And my balloon ride at dawn above them – priceless. Stay tuned for boatloads of pics as well as video from that once-in-a-lifetime experience.

PAMUKKALE, TURKEY – Memorability Rating: 4

The travertines at Pamukkale, TurkeyNothing there but those luscious brilliantly aqua and white travertine hot-spring terraces, but definitely worth a 1 night visit. A most unique and beautiful spot on the globe.

EPHESUS, TURKEY – Memorability Rating: 3

Otto Wants to See the World - at Ephesus, TurkeyAmong the most impressive ancient ruins I’ve seen in all my travels (including Mayan, Angkor Wat, etc.). Would be a 4 but I honestly have only a short attention-span when it comes to architecture (both ancient and modern) and much prefer serendipitous stray interactions with the local folk in my travels. Which is why… the highlight of my visit to Ephesus was – departing with a new, adopted FROG! (obviously, full details of how that came to be in a future TL post)

IZMIR, TURKEY – Memorability Rating: 2.5

Ananasli Crem Brulle dessert, Izmir, TurkeyIzmir was never meant to be anything more than a stop-over on my quest to fly to Athens for my American Airline standby flight homeward. Nonetheless, I made the best of my 2 nights there – discovered a most lovely cafe set along the blue Aegean (with perhaps the best dessert I’ve ever had) plus enjoyed a 2nd Turkish bath experience (can one ever have too many?).

ATHENS, GREECE – Memorability Rating: 2.5

Thick Greek yougurt smothered in honey, Athens, GreeceAthens really shouldn’t even be in the ratings as I long ago visited Greece in depth (Athens, Corfu, Santorini, Crete) with my (then) two young (age 8 and 11) daughters, and thus only spent a single night there on this trip before flying homeward.  I also was understandably travel-weary by the time I landed there after 40+ days on the Trail. But I must say – my Athens hostel turned out to be among my favorites, and from what little I saw amid the night-time streets of Athens, Greece could well do with an updated explore. Oh and… I managed to once again enjoy a Greek treat that I’ve been dreaming about for decades: thick, Thick, THICK yogurt, smothered in honey!

UTTERLY ARBITRARY! TERRIBLE-TERRIBLE! I am DESPICABLE! Daring to “rate” whole cities/towns that I’ve only seen/experienced the slimmest surface of. What can I say? the above 1-5 ratings are only MY.PERSONAL.OPINION and as such, are as valid as any other traveler passing briefly through.

I might also add – surprisingly, this little exercise in travel algorithms (actually not at all my usual style when it comes to my travels) has proven quite helpful to me personally – in making some sense of such a plethora of rapid-fire sights and experiences while it’s all still fresh in my mind. You see, I don’t usually move so swiftly in my travels – much favoring at least a couple of weeks in each country as I did in Asia from my base in Vietnam. But getting all the way over to Eastern Europe from here in Ecuador is neither easy nor cheap (supreme thanks to my American Airlines pilot chum Peter for the two – 6 legs AA Buddy Passes). And while I was at it – the many small countries clustered so tightly together in Eastern Europe and the Balkans made it mighty tempting to at least take a peek at as many as possible.

And though I’m truly AMAZED at my stamina these past many weeks (backpacking through *8* different lands at my dodderin’ age!), in retrospect, I think 40+ days continuously on the trail was a bit over-the-top (even for one much younger than I). Happily, I was wise enough to pause a bit after the first 3 weeks (when things were beginning to get “fuzzy” and I honestly was losing the ability to appreciate all the new places/things I was seeing). I didn’t want to hit Turkey (the #1 “prize” in my 8 country itinerary) in such an ambivalent state, so my blissful time in Montenegro was the perfect antidote to the malady I once dubbed “Global Glut”. Nonetheless, I think my future travel forays might better be a bit shorter – 3-4 weeks at most seems to be the charm for me.

Needless to say, this synopsis of my trip – but the tip of the iceberg. Stay tuned for more details (and tons more pics) on each individual locale in future TL posts.

8 countries (in 44 days) - guess which one was the most memorable?

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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!

10 Responses to *8* Countries – Which Was the Most Memorable?

  1. Hi there ! I still find you my most amazing friend I know. Just had dinner last night with Karen. We’re still alive and kicking. Take care …. please be careful…. Hope to see you in the USA one of these years. Marcia

    • Dyanne says:

      Well hey there Marcia! And Karen – sadly, I lost touch with her more than 4 years ago. Good to know you two are both doing well.

      And though I’m not likely to head to the States any time soon (um, whenever I scrape together the centavos for an air ticket – clearly there’s a LOT of countries I’ve yet to see!) But trust that if I ever visit (my beloved) Seattle, we’ll have to get together (again) at Karen’s for MARTINIS! 😀

  2. Well Dyanne – I’d say you have some well-deserved downtime coming just to sit back and enjoy the simple pleasure of being home and settling in a bit! Of all your travels this time, I’m most interesting in Slovenia, Montenegro and Croatia as we are planning some SLOW (I’m amazed at how much you were able to pack in your trip!) traveling through these countries next spring and early summer and I loved your rating system. I’ve just reached the halfway point of sorting and editing our photos from our trip back to the States so I can predict that you’ll have many happy hours ahead going through your pics and reliving your journeys! P.S. BTW, I had to look up YMMV which is a great acronym but OMG – sometimes I feel a bit OTL! 🙂 Anita
    Anita @ No Particular Place To Go kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Don’t Know Much About Art But We Know What We Like: The Grounds For SculptureMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      Lucky-ducky Anita – you’re so close now (in Portugal), you can whiz over to Slovenia easy-peasy (and probably for like $60 on Ryanair!). But tucked down-under here beneath the Equator, I’m not sure when I’ll ever get to that part of the world again, so I had to make my 48 hours of in-transit drudgery count.

      I’m sure you’ll LOVE all three of the lands you’ve got on your radar for next year. Do give a holler if I can be of any help in your trip planning.

      And… lol, now you’ve got ME stumped: whattheheck does “OTL” stand for?

  3. Thumbs up for expressing your opinions as 1-5 ratings. I expect Plitvice is most impressive after recent and sufficient rain. You’re the second person I’ve met who said who spoke so highly of of Montenegro. Kotor was a photographer’s delight, so I didn’t go beyond. I want to return, but there are other places to be experienced for the first time…

    After I retired, I learned 21 days was about my limit before being ready to go home. Then I had a realization (more like a D’oh!) that I should take ‘do little or nothing days’ before I needed to take them. Six week trips became enjoyable. YMMV.

    • Dyanne says:

      ‘Tis true Bill, there’s surely many places I’d love to return to for a nice long stay (Nepal, Myanmar, Morocco, Slovenia, Istanbul all spring to mind) but as you say – there’s still so darn many places (shoot, right here on my adopted S.A. continent) to take a peek at – sigh…

  4. LaVonna says:

    As a teacher in Istanbul for five years, I totally share you enthusiasm. If you should ever stay there for a length of time, I recommend joining ARIT organization as they offer some amazing tours guided by professors in various parts of Turkey. Informative and they get you into sites that are ordinarily off limits to the average tourist.
    Thanks for sharing special places in Eastern Europe as I plan on touring there next summer.

    • Dyanne says:

      Thanks for the tip on ARIT, LaVonna – should I be lucky enough to return to Turkey for an extended stay, I will definitely look them up.

      And yes – I scratched but the thinnest surface of that part of the globe on this trip. No doubt you’ll have many wondrous tales of your own to share when you visit next year.

  5. Burt says:

    I like the way you gave a quick summary of each, and supplied a “memorability” ranking. I have been to most of the places you mention, and pretty much agree with your assessments.

    We are planning a 5-week, 5-country trip next year, then finish with a month or two in Portugal to catch our breath before coming back home to Cuenca. I may steal your idea here, and so something similar, to help keep the memories fresh.
    Burt kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Burt’s 3 Years of CookingMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      I actually don’t normally like to be so flippantly judgmental in sharing my travel experiences, Burt. For g-knows travel is a most personal endeavor, and there’s so many factors that affect one’s experience in a given place within a specific short window of time.

      But yes – feel free to steal the notion of memorability ratings. It just seemed a quick way to initially share such a wide conglomerate of countries with my TL readers. After more carefully pondering my experiences and editing the many images of the trip, I may well revise my ratings a bit.

      The truth is – even the “worst” travel experiences often end up as great travel stories. And in any case – imo, any and all travel is immeasurably worthwhile.

      P.S. btw – I’m curious about your plans for 2017 – so do you have Ecuador citizenship now (i.e. to be able to be out of EC more than 90 days w/o losing your residency)? I’m coming up on 3 years here and have been carefully watching my days away so as to be eligible to apply for citizenship by next summer.

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