Friday, August 19, 2016

10 random tidbits about Eastern Europe

          I recently returned from a trip to Eastern Europe. It was a whirlwind experience visiting Turkey, Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Albania, Bulgaria, and Romania. Here are 10 random tidbits from that trip.

1) The best meal of the trip was in...Albania - There were a lot of great meals on the trip, but the meal below was the best of the bunch. What's not pictured was some delicious garlic pita bread.  

        One of the differences in restaurants in Europe and in the USA is speed of service. Restaurants in Europe take their time in preparing the food, so it would often take ninety minutes to two hours to complete a meal. The food was invariably good to great, but time was needed to really enjoy.
        Fast food wasn't always easy to find, although McDonalds seems to be thriving in many parts of Eastern Europe. Gas station food in Europe is dramatically worse than the gas station food in the U.S. I would have given anything to find a 7-11 on some days. Most of the gas station food was pre-packaged croissants with chocolate filling. I hit my threshold after two of those.

2) The roads are typically narrow and inefficient and require high alert driving - There were not very many highways from city to city for most of the trip. In fact, most of the roads required going 35-40 MPH on average and going through the middle of towns and villages. This meant that I had to stay on high alert to get my rental car from crashing into anything. I saw a lot of these signs and the subsequent real life version.

3)  Border crossing between countries ranged from lackadaisical to hard core - Some of the border crossings waved me through with just a passing glance, while others wanted to drag out the crossing with a random interview.
          The weirdest exchange I had was at the Albania-Montenegro border. After asking about my job in English and giving a complicated response, the border guard commented "You speak English very well. Have you ever been to America?" He was startled to learn that I live in America and have for many years. It was then that he saw my passport and waved me through.

        When we were leaving Bosnia, the border guard gave me a hard time, because my rental car contract didn't list Bosnia as a country I was permitted to visit. After arguing for a minute or two about it and even getting an interpreter, he realized that the only thing he could do was let us through since we had already visited Bosnia. None of the other border crossings had any issues with my contract.

4) The language barrier was sometimes a problem - There were a lot of attempted conversations in two different languages. I would say something in English and they would say something in their language. After about 45 seconds of that, I would resort to gestures and body languages. At one point at a gas station in Bulgaria, the clerk eventually took out her iphone and asked me to type my question into google translate. That worked pretty well!

5) The costs between countries varied dramatically - Hotel nights varied dramatically depending on the country I was visiting. 4 star hotels in Serbia and Romania were less than $40/night on the low end. A similar hotel in Dubrovnik, Croatia was 3 times more than that. The more expensive countries tended to also have highways and the corresponding tolls to pay for it. Croatia and Slovenia were by far the two most expensive countries. The further east I went the price dropped down.
          My favorite hotel was the Azure Cave Suites next to Cappadocia, which was around $50/night. The rooms were actually caves, but the reason why it was the best was due to the outstanding food and service. Here's a picture for reference.

6) Some things are unforeseeable - One of the evenings we flew back into Istanbul, we came back to a quiet and not very crowded airport. As we got back into our hotel, the security made us go through a medal detector and x-ray machine for our backpacks. We thought this was odd, but didn't think too much more about it. Once we arrived back to our hotel and got on the internet, we realized that there had been a terrorist attack on the other Istanbul Airport at the same time we had landed at the less crowded airport across town. Although I have had other close calls in my travels, this one hit home and made me a little bit anxious and I couldn't sleep. We flew the next morning to Serbia without incident, but it was a reminder that we live in an unpredictable and dangerous world at times. Of course, there was a coup attempt a couple weeks later, so it wasn't even the worst day of the year to be in Turkey.

7) Comparisons - Based on my travels, I've become a bit of a waterfall snob. I would rank Plitvice as a top 10 worldwide waterfall, but it's a 2nd or 3rd tier location compared to Victoria Falls/Iguazu (1st tier). In the U.S., I'd rank Multnomah Falls in Oregon and vicinity and Niagara Falls higher than Plitvice. That being said, it has some unique characteristics and definitely worth a visit if you ever get to Croatia.

Another comparison I made was Belogradchik Rocks as a mini-Southern Utah National Park, but with some fortress walls surrounding a few of them.

The Montenegro coast line is similar to California's, but with cities:

Durmitor National Park in Montenegro reminded me of a national park in the rocky mountains.

This bridge in Bosnia doesn't remind me of anything. It has survives some major wars.

This was my favorite castle in Hunedoara, Romania:

This was a cool spot on an island near Dubrovnik:

To end this post, here were My 3 favorite places:

8) Cappadocia (Turkey) - My day at Cappadocia was my favorite memory of the entire trip. The sunrise hot air balloon ride should be on everyone's bucket list. The geology and rock formations are pretty unique and it was just amazing!

9) Lake Bled and the Julian Alps (Slovenia) - Lake Bled and the vicinity has some of the best scenery in the world. There's a wedding chapel on an island in the middle of the lake and a castle overlooking it. This would be a great honeymoon location. After viewing the lake, the drive through the Julian Alps is jaw dropping.
Julian Alps:

10) Pamukkale (Turkey) - I hadn't heard much about Pamukkale until a few years ago, so I didn't have much in the way of expectations. The entrance requires you to go barefoot walking up travertine where there are a lot of pools you can wade into. It was a unique and interesting place to visit.

1 comment:

  1. Some amazing trip! Although I have been to Lake Bled-definitely adding stunning Cappadocia to my bucket list. The meal in Albania looked delicious. Should've tried your German to communicate as much of EE speaks it more than English b