Mini Balkan road trip – Part 5

After waking up in Theth and having a nice hike in the area we decided to head south. Since the rain started to fall, we made changes to our original plan (which included kayaking around Koman lake) and went in the direction of Tirana. Since we were already tired and very hungry after hike we decided to stop in some restaurant In Shkoder. They did not have most things on the menu and food was very average which we learned was typical for out of the season period. We learned the hard way if you want to eat good food. stop at some restaurant next to the road, and look that there are many local families gathered and eating – than it’s a good spot;)

Shkoder is a sweet town with a spectacular castle! Apparently on Sundays the entrance is free, otherwise entrance is 200 Lek and it is well worth it, in any other european country it would be much more expensive. Its area is huge and you manage to get a wonderful look on Shkoder lake and all the surroundings, showing you the magical cultural blend of Albania. Inside Shkoder castle there is a small shop where we bought a map and a small guide-book which had great suggestions of what to visit in Albania and had a lot of stories from its history.

Even driving inside Shkoder and going by the side roads you ll have a feeling you have entered one of Kosturica movies. A great thing about being there end of october, being November was that everything was full of delicious grenades, you could just pick them up everywhere and refresh yourself.

After visiting Shkoder we headed as we thought to Tirana, we stopped on the road in some restaurant (PLLUMI 87) full of people and enjoyed delicious meal there. It was slowly getting dark and the road to Tirana seemed to be completely block and due to that we changed our initial plan and this time decided to skip Tirana and we headed to Durres. In case you have more time than we did you should definitely stop by at Kruje, historically important city of Albania. It was my husbands birthday that day so we decided that night to sleep in some fancy hotel, thing we usually do not do. So we went randomly do Hotel Iliria Internacional, for our standards very fancy hotel located just at the beach. We paid the hotel 45 euros, breakfast was included. There were lots of bars and clubs around. Also there was amasing Konditorei, where I wanted to try everything, luckyly they were closing at 22 h, otherwise I would spend all the budget on amazing cakes and icecream there;) The best part when we woke up the next morning we could swim in sea!!! It was end of october and sea had 22 C, for locals too cold for us perfect;)

Where did we go after our amazing breakfast at the beach and more about Albanians gems in the next post:D

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Mini Balkan road trip – Part 4

After leaving amazing Montenegro and crossing another border control we have entered – Albania (country nr 6). This is one of rare European countries whose language neither me nor my husband speak. Since we wanted to explore countryside, before entering Albania we decided to learn some basics of Albanian. Here are some of the phrases we found useful and learned before crossing the border;)

English                                            Albanian

Yes                                                    Po

No                                                     Jo

Thank You                                      Faleminderit

You’re welcome                             Ju lutem

Do you speak English?                 Flisni Anglisht?

How much is it?                            Sa kushton?

Beef                                                  Mish lope

Chicken                                           Mish pule

Fish                                                  Peshk

Vegetables                                      Perime

Where?                                             Lu?

Left                                                   Majtas

Right                                                Djahtas

And that’s about it;) With the exception that the first phrase we remember was Naten e Mire (goodnight) cause it consists of names of our kids;) It was enough to fully enjoy magical Albania!

Our first destination in Albania was Theth – since we did not have any Albanian money (lek) we decided to go to the closest town to ATM to withdraw some cash, since we doubted there would be any ATM in Theth. That was indeed a smart decision!:)

We didn’t book any accommodation for our trip in advance, since we were going end of October, beginning of November we were sure there would be no issues without finding something on the site.

Why did we choose Theth as our first destination in Albania and how to get there?

Theth is a small village in Skhoder county, located in the mountains in north of Albania. It is extremely picturesque and a must see for all nature lovers. Theth is located in the center of Theth natural park. Local population moved to Theth some 400 years ago in order to preserve Christian traditions. In order to reach it you should have a 4×4 car since most of the road has no asphalt or take a beautiful all day hike:) My better half agrees with me that next James Bond should definitely be filmed in Albania, we already have ideas for scenario;)

In order to reach it by car we turned in Koplik (where we had short ATM break) to the road SH21 which leads to Theth. On the road to Theth you will meet all the possible animals on the road, we have encountered donkeys, goats, pigs, cows and turkeys;) You will have to drive slow but you will enjoy every second of it, sometimes doubting are you in a dream or reality?  From Koplik you need 2 hours to reach Theth. First 30 – 45 minutes there is asphalt – and then suddenly there is no road at all;) Unless you have 4×4 better do not go there with car, you ll destroy it most probably. We had lots of luck, already it was getting dark and some guy saw on our faces that we look lost in-car cause according to our map we should already be in Theth. He spoke some English, asked as do we have accommodation we said no, he asked do we want to stay in his house, he has some rooms and his wife can cook for us. Ofcourse we said yes! He called his son to come to lead us to their home, and for the next 45 minutes we were in the car more jumping then really driving on the road – reaching the house. He called immediately his wife who was waiting for us with 3 course dinner – tomato soup, delicious lamb, salat and dessert 😀 Later we found out that they have also Airbnb so in case you plan to go to Theth we recommend you to stay at family Pashko and amazing Vera as host. We paid 14 euros in total for amazing studio (room with bathroom), huge dinner, huge breakfast and a local guide who was showing us the next day beauties of Theth and hiking together with us to the waterfall and buying as later tea at the local bar. In case you decide to go to Theth like us out of season take care – in November only 15 families stay here and you can not reach it from Koplik, we were lucky to be there on the last day the road was open. After mid November till May only very bad road is open with which you need 6 hours to reach Koplik, since in Theth in winter can be up to 6 meters of snow.

More about our Albanian adventures in the next post:D

 

 

Mini Balkan road trip – Part 3

After waking up in magical Kotor we went for a walk around the old town. At first sight it looks like the city is ruled by cats ;). Cats are literally everywhere around the old town and there are some spots where you can spot more than 30 of them. But now back to Kotor itself, after amazing breakfast in city bakery (which we paid for both of us only 2 euros in total!) we went to search for a walk around the city walls. After we climbed up we realised it costs 8 euros to make the full walk, since we did not have time (guess you would need 2 hours just for the full circle) we decided to drop it for this time and do it when we ll be next time in Kotor, and for sure we will come back. Just get lost around the narrow streets in the old town and feel the magic of the place, honestly I felt much more magic in Kotor than in Dubrovnik, maybe due to lack of crowds;) Go to the old market spot and just look around, as memory we bought a medieval map of Kotor bay. Visit some of the Kotor amazing museums (either Cat museum or Maritime museum). Great tip for Kotor – you can partially walk on city walls for free, maybe not completely legally but no-one complained we went through their magnificent gardens, guess that’s the advantage of travelling in low season. After 2 hours of amazing Kotor it was time to slowly go further.

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Our next stop was Budva, we had an amazing brunch at restaurant Vista Vidikovac  with the view of old town and the sea all around you. Extremely romantic spot, slightly expensive for Montenegro itself but compared to Austria extremely cheap. For 5 Euros you get brunch composed of 3 eggs, bread, amazing Njeguski cheese and Njeguski jamon – which I could compare without doubt to Jamon Iberico of best quality. Also deserts are extremely tasty,,,mmmm I still remember taste of them. Our observation it is much cheaper than Dubrovnik with much higher quality of service for the price. They opened restaurant just for us with smiles on their face, on contrary to Dubrovnik where people were annoyed by us asking are they still open, staff were not annoyed we set super far from the restaurant itself, cause we wanted closest spot to the sea and made us enjoy this so we felt again like on honeymoon! We completely fell in love with Montenegro, can not believe we have not come here before:D

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Than we headed for a short stop in St Stefan, very sweet fisherman town and then continued our trip to Albania (country nr 6). Before reaching Albania we made a stop at Cijevna river canyon close to Podgorica, truly magical spot, and according to local policeman soon they will open a border to Albania there – awesome for our next trip there:D Entering Albania, by passing just along the coast of Lake Skadar is truly magical, but more about our Albanian experiences in the next posts!:D

 

Mini Balkan road trip – part 2

After waking up in Novigrad and going through traditional Novigrad morning routine, which consists of eating in the bakery and going for a coffee in Flash, we headed more south. Our next destination was Klis.

All Game of Thrones fans have probably already been there. So far, I did not see a single episode of Game of Thrones – but after visiting Klis fortress (entrance ticket 40kn) I fully understand why they chose it as one of their filming locations. It is truly magnificent fortress on 3 levels kept in a great state. There are two small museums with the permanent exhibition where you can learn more about history of Klis and its warriors (famous Uskoci from Klis).

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After our nice visit to Klis and having a brunch there we realised we did not print our green card (OOOOpsie ) so we headed to Split in hope to find a print shop which would print us the green card. Since we were anyway heading to Split we also made a stop in OBI to buy a rope with which we can attach our kayak to roof. We had luck and the first print shop we called – Orion – was able to print our green card even in three different shades of green – yuhhuuuu we can continue.

Next stop was Dubrovnik – not that I planned it – but my better half has been complaining for the last 7 years that he is married to Croatian and has never been to Dubrovnik so to stop him from nagging we made a stop so he sees it at night (of course he was not satisfied and we had to stop on the way back during day). I can tell u immediately he liked it more in the night:P  In order to reach Dubrovnik you need to cross BIH (country number 4) at Neum passage – which is great cause gasoline prices are much lower there than in Croatia so if you need to tank your car, use the opportunity.

Honestly I was shocked that there were so many tourists in Dubrovnik out of season – but I guess Game of Thrones did increase its popularity. The old town is indeed magical – but prices are crazy,,,one pizza margarita 66 kn!!! Ufff so much more expensive than in Naples, the place of its origin,,,such a shame,, Honestly I can not recommend you place to eat in Dubrovnik. We did not explore a lot we made just a 2 hour break, and took in the end fast food Girice (small tasty fish) and enjoyed them:P

 

After short sightseeing of Dubrovnik we headed to Kotor, meaning we had to cross one more border. You can not enter Montenegro (country number 5) without green card that’s why we are so grateful to Print shop Orion from Split😀 Guys working at the border control are one of the nicest I have ever met during my travelling history. They were making nice jokes and letting me know that I should not forget my husband has a birthday in two days;) They also told us where to take care cause there are police controls:D In Kamenari we took a ferry to Lepetane which costs 4,50 Euros. The ride along the seaside to Kotor is just priceless. Too bad I do not have a good camera so I could not capture a nice photo of Kotor in the night – but definitely it is one of the top 3 magical spots we have visited in our lives. More about Kotor and Montenegro in the next post:D

 

Mini Balkan tour – or how did we travel across 7 countries in 7 days

We have always dreamt of making a big Balkan tour, but we seem to postpone it ever since. That is why this year we decided since we live in Austria we should use the opportunity and make a mini Balkan tour. On the picture below you can see our tour:D

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Starting from Austria (country Nr1) we passed through Slovenia (country nr 2) which we visit regularly so we decided not to stop this time. In case you have never been to Slovenia do not miss the opportunity to visit lake Bohinj, Bled and Ljubljana, each of which tell you an amazing unique story. Our favorite spot in Slovenia is Bohinj, lake is truly spectacular and there are amazing hiking routes around it.

We continued to Zagreb (capital of Croatia, country Nr 3) to leave the kids with grandpas since we wanted it to be our romantic mini Balkan tour;) Zagreb is in a way like mini Vienna, you should not miss it during Advent.

Our first night of mini Balkan tour we spent in Novigrad close to Zadar. It is the place from which I originate, so as you might guess big plus of it is that we could sleep there for free. That on side, Novigrad is truly a beautiful little fisherman town which you should visit if you ever happen to be close to Zadar. There is a very small fortress on the top of the hill. You don’t need to be very fit to climb the small hill and reach magnificent fortress from the 13th century. During climbing you become aware how huge complex this was long time ago. You can visit a chamber where once queen Elizabeta Kotromanic was kept – more known as mother of famous queen (in Poland known as king) Jadviga. According to the legend her older daughter Marija was saved but the queen Elizabeta was killed and thrown to the river of Zrmanja. Being there you must feel special – from the fortress you can enjoy the view of the amazing sunsets in Novigrad. Also you should be aware that till beginning of 19 th century Novigrad was more like an island there was no road to reach it you could reach it only via boat – it used to be isolated pearl of Dalmatia. You can also see on the first level the well which was found out recently.
Climbing the stairs you can notice holes in which once cannon balls were – which are at the moment kept in the museum of Novigrad. Definitely a must visit – either just for romantic sunset, amazing history or view.

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In the next post comes our adventure number 2 and crossing other two countries:)

How to travel cheap around Europe?

Most of us Europeans are not grateful enough for all the cheap possibilities of transport we have. Just recently, I have realised that, for example, in US there are no such thing as 5 euro flights. In order to give a better insight in the Euro travels here is the article.

Best way to cross long distances is by plane. We flew multiple times with our kids, and still do on regular basis. In order to do it on budget you should travel only with backpacks, what more do you need for a weekend trip? The thing is that in all budget companies you need to pay additionally for check-in luggage. More tips on how and when to book cheap airlines ticket here.

So here goes the list of cheap airline companies:

Ryanair – our most beloved one. I still remember one of my first Ryanair flights just after volcano eruption on Iceland, when you could buy a ticket to London for 3 euros from Pula (Croatia) woow, of course I used the opportunity. Now you can not find flights for 3 euros but I am sure after some new volcano eruption there might even be cheaper cause people are afraid to travel then due to media scary news. If you want to go really on budget do not reserve a seat, we never do. Yes it does happen that we are than separated during the flight, like me and Miro on one part of plane, Krzys and Natalia in another, but it is fine, its only for 2 hours:) If you want to seat all together than you need to pay extra, which we find completely unnecessary. Especially if travelling with children, take care how you dress so you pass all security controls as painless as possible, meaning no bracelets, metal bras, keys left over in pocket, boots etc. Do not forget to print your boarding passes at home. In backpack pack some snacks for kids to keep them happy during boarding time, and try  to board last ones, give kids opportunity to run around and waste energy before they ll be forced to sit in a plane. Btw budget airlines – means no free drinks and food – if you want something there will be lots of junk food available to buy on board. You can take two baby things for free on every Ryanair flight, we usually took stroller and car seat, but you can choose for example baby basisnet, it’s up to you. The great thing about ryanair flights is that very often they have great promotions for flights to cost as little as 5 euros,s o you can always make some surprise weekend travel anywhere around europe or even further (they also fly to Morocco and Israel). Laudamotion is owned by Ryanair but can also contain some great budget deals so you should always check it separately.

Wizzair – another great budget airlines (I like their junk food the most:P) I used a lot during my studies since I did my master thesis in Warsaw, and they have lots of great connection from Poland. Now they have connections all around Europe, usually one way ticket with Wizzair costs around 30 euros.

Easyjet – one of the oldest budget airlines in Europe, connecting various cities around. If you book early enough you can get one way ticket for 20 euros.

Eurowings – for example this budget company has now a lot of great Black Friday deals, I am just tempted to buy us ticket to some warm place for some of the following weekends.

Transavia – dutch budget airlines company with which if you book early enough you can buy one way ticket for 25 euros.

Vueling – spanish budget airline company with which you can buy a one way ticket for 15 euros. This is the only budget company we never used since our friends had bad experience of getting their flights cancelled and with two small kids we can not afford a risk of our flight being cancelled. Apparently their service has improved, but still we wait for some better first hand reviews before we book a flight with them:D

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Also another cheap transport around Europe is bus – with Flixbus you can get bus tickets in between two countries for as low as 7 euros.

In case you are still a student you can travel quite affordable around Europe with Interrail.

We mostly enjoy road trips around Europe with car, cause we love to have our freedom of movement. If we arrive somewhere by plane, we usually rent a car, and there are a lot of budget rent-a-car companies in Europe, but that deserves a completely separate post:))

Hope you enjoyed reading and let me know what would you like I write about next time:D

 

 

Costa Rica part 7 – Montezuma, and the way back to San Jose airport

After relaxing in Samara, we decided to finish our first Costa Rican adventure by exploring Montezuma. The real adventure was reaching Montezuma from Samara by local roads, crossing multiple rivers and definitely the most breathtaking road which takes you over river Bongo! If you love beautiful nature and challenging car road trips you will absolutely love this journey. If you have time definitely on your journey stop at Rio Bongo beach which is one of the most important nesting sites for leatherback sea turtles in the eastern Pacific. There is a local landowner who will allow you to spend a night at his place, so if you are there in the right time of year – you can witness this magnificent nature miracle. We were slightly late for the nesting season, but anyway we were impressed by the Rio Bongo estuary. Take care if you plan to visit Costa Rica in wet season as you might not be able to cross Rio Bongo with your car. Carefully plan your journey. After we arrived to Montezuma and left our backpacks in the hostel, we felt we entered some hippy paradise:)

It is a magical place, which is in the same moment full of life and peace. We stayed only two days there but we are sure that on our next trip – Montezuma will be our must stop.

Why did we love Montezuma so much?

Beaches are amazing everywhere in the region, so you might wonder what is so special about this place. Truth is, I can not describe it well with words, you would need to experience it yourself. But definitely culinary – it was our favorite stop on this journey, having absolutely brilliant superdeliciousus dinner at Playa de los artistas. Even though we were with our two toddlers, it was very romantic. In the restaurant they use only candles, there are no other sources of light and you are located directly on the beach. We came just in time for sunset. Also, the owner is italian chef who changes menu every day depending on the things he can buy that day on the local market. So menu changes every day and it is hand written. Wooow! If you enjoy gastrotourism, or simply are looking for the most romantic spot on the planet to propose your girl, forget about Paris, that is so lame – do it at Playa de los artistas! Additionally they made amazing dish for our toddlers which was even not on a day menu:)

We were little bit sad to leave Montezuma, but we had to hurry for a ferry from Paquera to Puntarenas. It was our last day in Costa Rica since we had to catch our flight back to Europe from San Jose in the evening. On the road to San Jose we encountered the most amazing Soda that we visited on our journey – Soda GuayaquilMy husband had stomach pain so they prepared him delicious fresh soup which was not even on menu, contained fresh lime and chillies. The owners are amazing married couple Raul and Lourdes. If you have a chance visit this soda to try some of the most delicious Costa Rica typical food.

When we arrived to Alajuela, we went to the mall to buy and send postcards to our friends. After that we went to walk around and found some “peruvian restaurant”. The food was ok, but since I was previously in Peru, food was not typical peruvian, but we did not expect it anyway:)

Can not wait to come back to Costa Rica!!!

Which part of Costa Rica you enjoyed the most?