Eastern Europe Summary

General list of recommendations, what we liked and what we didn’t like…

Travel

For the flights from Perth to London we used Qatar, and from Sofia to Jakarta we used Turkish Airlines. Qatar were definitely the better airline. Turkish Airlines had a tiny plane … oddly enough their one hour flight from Sofia to Istanbul had more leg room than the 12 hour flight from Istanbul to Jakarta. Food and entertainment were OK but I’d still give the win to Qatar.

We only took three small flights, all of which were quite good. First was London to Stuttgart with Eurowings (Germanwings),  Sofia to Istanbul (Turkish Airlines) and Jakarta to Denpasar Bali (Garuda Indonesia).

Majority of our intercity travel was by buses (with the odd train … only one journey I can remember). Typically the buses only took marginally longer but were usually around half the price. Buses throughout Germany / The Netherlands were amazing, we used Flixbus for nearly every journey, going towards Eastern Europe they got worse and worse. Some notes we wrote down:

  • Always running late … sometimes up to 2-3 hours. If you’re the first stop though they’re bang on time and leave on the minute…don’t be late.
  • Baggage check-in is usually between 1 to 2 Euro per bag.
  • Normally have to “Check In” at the bus station i.e. show them your online printed ticket and then pay another 1 to 2 Euro per ticket. Would probably recommend just buying tickets at the station although some times they get super busy during peak season.
  • First bus station we had to check in was in Austria, thankfully it was free but you’ll have to allow some extra time as the line was long.
  • Always print your bus tickets for the Balkans. Not a lot of good info online either for timetables so make sure you check departure times etc at the station when you arrive.
  • Ideally carry your passport with you even if you have EU Resident Cards etc … saw some issues in Austria and Croatia with them not accepting the cards (even though they’re supposed to).
  • Check the bus and train times and routes before booking accommodation, some don’t run every day (even some of the major cities) and some are triple the price on alternating days.
  • Ideally never use Croatia Bus, basically the bus equivalent of VivaColombia. Never on time, rudest staff imaginable, small and cramped, sometimes no AC, openable window or working toilets; plus they are expensive.
  • Everyone in the Balkans (especially Croatia) seemed unhelpful, don’t expect customer service at the bus stations.
  • Don’t expect toilets on all buses.

List of Booking Websites / Timetables

Travel Card

Again, Citibank were incredible, don’t think we got charged any fees. Any time an ATM said there would be a charge (extremely rare), we’d walk 50 m and find another ATM which was free.

Cash

We tried to limit our cash usage, and used our cards a lot more than in South America (carried them everywhere this time). We still mainly took money from the ATMs and used cash but there were a lot more ATMs around the place which made things easy to take out small amounts. There were quite a few places in the Balkans that wouldn’t accept card payments too meaning cash is a necessity. Usually we were pretty lucky and only had a small amount of cash left over when we changed counties … make sure you find an exchange place without commission as some of them will kill you. Noticed it was a lot harder to find an exchange place in the counties with the Euro, typically only banks (and they would charge outrageous commission).

Street Food

Don’t remember seeing much street food around (typically only pancakes in the Balkans), however we did eat at a lot of local restaurants.

Restaurants

No particularly memorable restaurants … would have mentioned them in the individual city posts.

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Hotels / Hostels

List of Booking Websites:

Used –

  • AirBnB
  • Hostelworld
  • Booking.com

Not Used –

  • 9Flats
  • Home Away
  • Hostels.com
  • Hostelbookers.com
  • Couch Surfing

We noticed that going through Germany you get discounts for booking on / with the hostels on german-hostels.de. They also had a similar system in the Balkans called Balkan Backpackers (just Google for the website) and they offer 10% discounts and after so many nights you get a free stay or something.

Honourable mentions go to:

Best value for money – Hostel Miran in Mostar, Bosnia.

Biggest space/best location – Hiker’s Den in Zabljak, Montenegro.

Best party Hostel – Ginger Monkey Hostel in Slovakia

Quirkiest hostel – Franz Ferdinand Boutique in Sarajevo, Bosnia

Best beds – 1A Adventure Hostel Lesce Bled, Slovenia

Best host –  Airbnb (Stuttgart)

Cities

Favourite Cities – Stuttgart, Hamburg, Utrecht, Prague, Budapest, Mostar, Sarajevo, Belgrade

Countries

Favourite Country – Bosnia, hands down. Beautiful scenery, interesting history and really nice people. Also so much meat.

People

Overall it everyone wasn’t as friendly as South America. Most people spoke decent English and didn’t even seem to care if you tried to speak their language or not. Friendliest people would definitely be Bosnia, unfriendliest would be Croatia with a close second in Montenegro…especially when grocery shopping.

Site Seeing / Activities

Top activities would have to be:

  1. Hiking in Zabljak, Montenegro
  2. Partying in Hamburg, Germany
  3. Hiking in Zdiar, Slovakia
  4. Hiking the Seven Lakes, Bulgaria
  5. Walking around Lake Bled, Slovenia

Architecture

Obviously great architecture most of the way across Europe, with the further East you get the more stereotypically communist it looks (Bulgaria winning that prize). Vienna would probably win with the best architecture (especially if you include the Hasburg’s Palace), with Sarajevo having the most interesting mix of Eastern and Western influences. Saw so many amazing looking buildings everywhere that after a while it all looked the same and we could tell we should appreciate it but we really didn’t care. The Dom in Cologne is incredible and enormous.

Things to Pack (Except the Obvious)

  • Leatherman / decent pocket knife – came in handy so many times, even if to just cut fruit. Make sure you pack it in luggage not carry-on.
  • Jeans / Hoodie / Thermals – even during Summer you’ll have some shitty days.
  • Spare Phone Charger / Wall Adapter & Power Board – Power board came in super handy (4 socket), given it was Australian sockets it was less of a target to steal too.
  • SIM card from your country with roaming – in case you need to receive SMS security numbers etc. for online banking.
  • SIM card in the Euro (get in first destination) – Mobile data for the win.
  • Spare credit/debit card – ideally of a different type.

General / Miscellaneous

Expect to pay to use public toilets anywhere except for Serbia (usually around 0.5 Euro).

Good website for mapping travels / planning is travellerspoint.com

If you can, ask a local where you buy the tickets for public transport – sometimes it’s at the machines, sometimes the machines are on the tram / bus and sometimes you have to buy it from the driver, no consistency. Also try get a gauge of the price before entering the country (if you need to take one straight away) as some have very very limited change.

Other Places to Visit

The following places were recommended to us by other people while we were travelling around. Haven’t checked any of them out. Not necessarily in Europe.

Croatia:

  • Plitvice National Parks
  • Zadar
  • Sibenik (Incl. day trip to Krka National Park – bus to Skradin, ferry to Park)
  • Split (2 Days more … for tours)
  • Hvar (2-3 Days)
  • Dubrovnik (1-2 Days)
  • Markarska Riviera

Montenegro:

  • Budva (1 day more)
  • Ulcinj

Czech Republic:

  • Prague (2 Days more)
  • Cesky Krumlov

Macedonia:

  • Ohrid

Serbia:

  • Valjevo

Romania:

  • Bran Castle (Dracula’s) and Pele’s Castle in Sinai (even better)

Brazil:

  • Chapada Diamantina
  • Balneario Camboriu (Praia de Estaleirinho), Sky Bar

Argentina:

  • Flores

Canada:

  • Quebec City
  • Cape Breton Island (Drive the Cabot Trail)
  • Alberta, BC – Jasper, Waterton, Banff, Glaciar Radium National Parks

Malaysia:

  • Mabul (and Sipandan)

Albania / Georgia / Armenia

 

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