Although, We have not visited other Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, I am still naming this post as Baltics as we might visit those countries in the future.
A visit to Krakow was hastily thrown together within days as I realized that the trip has been extremely delayed and that the ticket prices are only increasing as days pass and the winter season comes to an end.
In Poland, the main attractions for me were infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration camps and the famed Tatra mountains. After research of exactly 15 minutes, I found organized trips on Viator which would take us to Auschwitz Birkenau and Tatra mountains. Due to scheduling issues, we had to Tatra mountains first when we would have preferred the other way round. Also, these organized trips were our third and fourth organized trips as the entire trip was hastily cobbled together.
Our trip began by taking a flight to Katowice which is the neighboring city of Krakow and an hour away. We had airport transfer bus taking us directly to the Krakow on arrival. getting out of Katowice was a breeze as it is a very small airport and no checks courtesy Schengen agreement.
The bus journey toward Mostar was long and winding. Even though we had to travel just over 45 kms into Bosnia to get to Mostar, the bus was creeping slowly and had taken nearly an hour just to get even half way. the bus then turned toward Međugorje which was not even on the route map. At Međugorje, the bus stopped, a different bus came to take us to Mostar.
As the Bus entered into Mostar, the stark scenes of conflict come into picture. Buildings shredded by bullets and left to rot. Sharp demarcations of conflict areas are visible. Amidst all this, the thought that was running in my mind was what had i got us into. but as we were already here, i thought let us go ahead with the trip.
We had been given ample instructions to reach the room by Miran and was sufficient to get us comfy, The weather outside was a raging -18C and the heater was hardly sufficient for one of us to be warm. Turns out we had arrived in the harshest winter in the last 10 years in Bosnia. I got a message saying we would been heading out for a trip in the morning to Tito’s secret bunker as Vjetrenica Cave was not available as the ground was covered with ice. We had dinner at a restaurant nearby. To our surprise, the entire Bosnian cuisine is reliant only on 3 elements: Pepper, Salt and Vinegar. No other spices or herbs are used. Method of cooking is either grilled, baked, or fried. meat is beef, fish or pork, nothing else. Chicken and vegetarian dishes have only recently arrived to provide more choice for the tourists.
Even though we had started off in Croatia for the trip, we didn’t explore it one bit except to get an incomplete picture the first time round.
We arrived from Ljubljana in Zagreb and made our way to Airbnb apartment which was only a short walk away from the bus station and was primarily one of the reasons for choosing the apartment. When we arrived at the apartment, we were dismayed as it looked decrepit and old, reminiscent of the Soviet/ Yugoslavian era which have now become living relics. Irena arrived on time and showed us to our apartment and suffice to say, we were truly blown away by a fully modern and tastefully done apartment. The decor was warm and made us feel welcome.
Irena suggested we do a city walk and guided us to the place we could see the advent activities going around Trg kralja Tomislava. At Trg kralja Tomislava, we saw Ice Skating rinks filled with people enjoying a nice winter evening out. Lots of stalls selling meat dishes, stews, soups and beers abounded the area. I bought cider to partake in the revelry going around. We had to return back to the apartment as we had an early morning bus from Zagreb towards Plitvice lakes and then on to Split.
On our vacation in the Balkans we covered 3 countries: Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia i Herzegovina. Bosnia was a completely unconventional choice but turned out to be an interesting choice nonetheless. 2 months of planning has gone in to the vacation as a lot of info is scattered all around and needed a lot of emails, calls and WhatsApp chats regarding availability and even then Weather was a significant unknown variable
We were in Slovenia for 3 days and had the best start to the Balkan vacations
Day 0: Amsterdam to Zagreb to Ljubljana
We reached Zagreb from Amsterdam by Croatia Airlines which provided ample luggage in carry on. On board, I was served beer and olives while Swapna got Coke and Cheese. Though the flight was delayed due to Fog in Schiphol, we managed to be in time for our bus to Ljubljana, Slovenia. The bus journey was by Flixbus which we have come to trust the most even though it might be a little expensive than the rest but the punctuality and quality of ride is worth it. We passed by the Croatian and Slovenian border control which takes a good 30 minutes as there are 2 border control checks. The checks and 90 minutes later, we reached Ljubljana. We checked into the Airbnb house shortly thereafter. Eva, who was the host suggested Piazza which was super close and super awesome (Eva’s words, not ours). Turns out Piazza is as good as recommended and with a very interesting decor.
It is constructed of four houses facing each other with the back portion having been broken off. I ordered Polenta, a Slovenian dish and Swapna ordered Pasta both of which turned out to be great. We hit the bed early as we had a long day ahead planned
Before I start writing the multi piece blog post on my Balkan trip, I wanted to put out the effort that went into preparing, apps and websites used and general warning
Planning for the Balkans is complicated to say the least and needs the most effort, simply because there is not much information out there on trains, buses etc for people who travel using public transport. For people with cars, well, except for bad and rash drivers, not much of a concern.
Flight tickets: I usually check flight tickets from Google Flights which gives me a reasonable understanding on cost and time etc thereby allowing continuous refinement of itinerary
Train schedules for Slovenia can be found quite easily but the tickets cannot be booked online. Tickets have to be bought in person and usually can be bought a few minutes in advance. Be forewarned about holidays as it can be an issue. Also, the legend is not the same. Sometimes, buses can be booked from railway station but it will be confusing as it might not be mentioned as bus.
Buses can be booked by using Flixbus for Slovenia and Croatia. For Bosnia, use GetbyBus which gives all possible options. Buses from both is reasonably on time with a +/- 30 minute arrival time. Print tickets and copies always because different bus companies have different practices and not consistent. Luggage in bus hold will be charged most of the time at a rate of 1 eur per bag
Luggage storage can be found at Railway and Bus stations and charge a nominal price
Read on travel websites and blogs to find more about the places and countries. Lots to discover and may cause travelers regret if research is not adequate
Confirmation from Embassies etc is good to have and Bosnian embassy officials promptly replied to queries
People from Balkans speak passable English and are very helpful but still chances are high you will be ripped off for a few euros in some places
Food: if you are a non vegetarian, lots to try but for vegetarians, there will be a lot of struggle as these countries are not known for vegetarian cuisine.
Guided tours are convenient and cost effective in Bosnia. I recommend Ihouse Travel in Mostar, Bosnia and Slovenia Explorer in Ljubljana, Slovenia
Always better to check with places such as Skocjan caves and Vogel ski resort regarding timings and trips as during off peak season, tours may not be available and will be a nasty surprise
Have Here WeGo for offline navigation and Google Translate handy and loaded with the requisite information
When striking a conversation, be aware and mindful of the topic. Tito, Milosevic, Serb-Croat war can be a touchy topic and unless indicated as willing to talk, do not approach the topic. Different people hold different opinions and can get ugly real fast.
Smoking inside a restaurant is quite prevalent and people light up a lot
All said, Balkans are a joy to visit and have so much to offer that some of the bloggers I follow have made it their home and continue exploring.
All said, Balkans has lots to offer through out the year and enjoy exploring