Wednesday, April 28, 2010

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Easyjet flies from Switzerland to Kosovo

Easyjet has announced that it will link Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, with two Swiss cities starting in June. Flights from Geneva will operate on Wednesday and Saturday while flights from Basle will leave on Thursday and Saturday. Fares start at 30 euro one way, but you may need to move fast if you want to snap up a flight at that price - especially if you are looking for a Saturday flight in summer.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The mountains of Bulgaria: a new hiking guide

Keen hikers hoping to explore Bulgaria's mountain ranges may be interested in a new guidebook that has just been published by Cicerone. "Walking in Bulgaria's National Parks" describes 12 treks in the Pirin, Rila, and Central Balkan national parks, with detailed information about the plant and animal life likely to be encountered along the way.

Julian Perry, the book's author, also maintains a blog about Hiking in Bulgaria, where he has recently been keeping readers up to date on the exceptionally icy weather that has gripped the region.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

A rare Macedonian mention

The Republic of Macedonia rarely appears in the travel pages of English-language newspapers, so it was nice to see a full-scale article about Lake Ohrid in last Saturday's Guardian. The writer of "A dive into Macedonia's past" recalls childhood visits to her grandmother (who came from Ohrid), enjoys a swim in the 26C water of the lake, and hires a boat to visit the springs at Sveti Naum.

Ohrid Quay
View of Ohrid townNational Museum, Ohrid

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

New direct train from Sarajevo to Belgrade

Starting tomorrow (December 13, 2009), Sarajevo and Belgrade will be connected by a direct train service for the first time in almost two decades. The new service will run every day all year round, leaving Sarejevo at 11:35 and arriving at 20:18. In the reverse direction departure from Belgrade is at 17:35, arriving in Sarajevo at 20:18.

Until now travel by rail between these two cities has required an awkward change of trains in Croatia or northern Bosnia, so this development makes train travel a more appealing option. The trains still have to follow a rather indirect route through Croatia, and with a scheduled journey time of about 9 hours they will take longer than most buses, which typically take around 8 hours. However there is still only one bus (operated by Lasta) from Sarajevo's central bus station, so some travellers may find the train a more attractive option than a bus from the out-of-town Lukavica bus station.

The train fare (in either direction) is reportedly about 17 euro one way, 31 euro return.

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

Updated Bradt Guide to Macedonia

The third edition of the Bradt Guide to Macedonia has recently been published. Like the first two editions the updated guide was written by Thammy Evans, and it remains the only English-language guidebook dedicated entirely to the Republic of Macedonia. This edition is about 50 pages longer than its predecessor, and the publishers say that it includes "new material on battlefields and historical figures, as well as updated information on outdoor pursuits, folk festivals, wine, archaeology – and, of course, Macedonia's fast-improving hotels, restaurants and bars".

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Other people's journeys: Balkan travelogues 2009

Apart from a short trip to Romania I haven't had the chance to visit the Balkans this year, so I've been travelling vicariously by reading other people's online travelogues. In this post I list a selection of trip reports that may prove useful or interesting to readers planning a trip to the region. All of them date from 2009 or the second half of 2008 so the information should be up to date.

Most of the travelogues I've come across are about multi-country trips through Southeast Europe. A good example is "Traveling the Balkans", an account of a trip through Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, and Greece in May 2009. The site features detailed descriptions of some of the trickier cross-border transport connections in the region, including a bus from Venice to Ljubljana and a taxi-plus-minibus combination from Bar to Tirana. The author's overall conclusion: "I recommend this trip to anyone who has not spent time in this seriously awesome region".

The author of "Balkans2009's Great Adventure" reaches a similar conclusion: "All in all our trip to the Balkans was tremendously fun. We saw amazing sites, ate great food, and met some wonderful people. We'd strongly urge anyone who has a lust for off-the-beaten-path travel to consider visiting this part of the world". Craig and Efren also travelled by public transport, starting in Sarajevo and taking in the Croatian and Montenegrin coasts. They then headed further off the beaten path, flying from Tivat to Pristina in a plane with a total of just four passengers, exploring Pristina, Gjakova, and Prizren, before heading to Macedonia and finally Athens.

If you're thinking of taking a car to the Western Balkans, check out "Chokk's Road Trip", which describes a drive from Belgium to Albania and back again, with stops in Bosnia, Croatia, and Montenegro along the way. As well as descriptions of the sights and sounds of the journey, the blog includes descriptions of driving conditions on the E65 (Adriatic Highway), the Mostar-Metkovic road, and two border crossings between Albania and Montenegro.

"Travelvice" blogger Craig Heimburger chose a much slower approach to travelling in Southeast Europe in late 2008, spending about two months in Romania and a month in Bulgaria. If you are interested in the possibilities of CouchSurfing in the region this blog should be of interest, as Craig managed to rack up more than 100 consecutive nights staying in this form of accommodation (at the cost of what sounds like a frightening amount of time spent at a computer chasing up invitations). This method of travel brought him to a variety of places rarely visited by foreign tourists. To be honest, I suspect some of these place are rarely visited for a very good reason. Much as I love both countries, I can see how a tour of grey, run-down provincial towns in the depths of winter might not leave a very good impression, so I wasn't too suprised that Craig seemed generally underwhelmed by both countries.

Also travelling through Southeast Europe on a low budget was Wade at "Vagabond Journey", who visited Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia. He seems to have had less luck than Travelvice in finding Couchsurfing hosts, and concludes that "Europe is expensive to travel in winter". In line with the site's overall theme of Budget Travel, several posts list the costs of basics such as bread, water, and cheese.

After all those multi-country itineraries, I'd like to mention two blogs that stick (mainly) to one country:

"Nothing Against Serbia" is the blog of a Swiss architect married to a Serbian. As well as many travel tips drawn from the writer's travels around Serbia, the blog features photos and descriptions of many aspects of Serbian architecture and design.

Finally, ""Ellis and Jodie's Bulgarian Adventure is a blog by a couple who moved to Sofia from Israel in January 2009, covering the highs and lows of adapting to life in a new country - including the challenges of learning Bulgarian and the unpredictable results of using GPS to navigate Bulgaria's road network.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Belgrade and Thessaloniki, party cities

Lonely Planet have listed two Balkan cities among the world's top ten party cities in their new book "1000 ultimate experiences".

One of their selections is quite predictable: Belgrade regularly features in lists of this type, thanks to its "varied nightlife, ranging from eclectic watering holes for those in the know, to the busy restaurants and bars of the Skadarlija district and the summer clubs in barges on the Sava and Danube Rivers".

The inclusion of Thessaloniki is perhaps more surprising. According to Lonely Planet, Greece's second city offers "great nightlife ... from arty cafes to Latin bars to discos pumping out house music to salacious bouzoukia (clubs featuring twangy, Eastern-flavored Greek folk-pop)".

Read the full list

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Friday, November 06, 2009

An end in sight for the "Kosovo passport stamp issue"?

The Serbian Interior Minister has apparently indicated that Serbia intends to make life easier for foreigners entering the country via Kosovo, who until now have been regarded as illegal entrants (at least in theory) because their passports do not contain an entry stamp from a recognised Serbian border crossing. Unfortunately no date is given for the change, which would remove a minor but niggling worry that concerns many travellers planning a trip around the Balkans.

Full article from Balkan Insight:
Serbia to ease travel for foreigners coming from Kosovo

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

What's new in Lonely Planet's "Western Balkans"?

Judging by the clicks through to Amazon from the links on this site, Lonely Planet's "Western Balkans" is the single most popular guidebook among readers of Balkanology. I mentioned the imminent publication of a second edition back in March, but I had few details at that stage. Now that I have my own copy, I thought some readers might be interested in a comparison with the first edition.

The most obvious change is that the chapter on Slovenia has been quietly dropped, presumably for not being Balkan enough. Along with an increase of 44 pages in the total size of the book, this has allowed quite a lot of extra material to be included in the individual country chapters, which have been completely rewritten. The following countries are now covered: Albania (53 pages), Bosnia (68), Croatia (92), Kosovo (12), Macedonia (52), Montenegro (40), and Serbia (51). There are also more than 100 pages of general material about the region as a whole.

I was pleased to find that much of the extra space has been used to write about less well-known regions. Eastern Bosnia, for example, was ignored in the first guide but now gets four pages, including details of accommodation and transport (details notably lacking in the rather confused coverage of this region in the Bradt guide to Bosnia). Theth (Albania), Biogradska Gora (Montenegro), and Krushevo (Macedonia) are similar examples of destinations that have been added in the new edition.

It's impossible to thoroughly judge a guidebook without using it on the ground, which I haven't yet had the chance to do. But leafing through the new edition of Western Balkans certainly prompted me to daydream about another visit to the region, taking in places I haven't yet seen - which has to be a good thing.

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