In case you missed it, I'm currently traveling through Europe, exploring hidden corners and must-see spots in Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the UK. I've been posting daily updates from my adventures on Facebook and Twitter, but in case you missed some of those, I've also decided to put together a weekly round-up to update anyone who's interested on what I've been up to for the past 7-ish days.
Here we go with Week 4! (With the days being cumulative.)
My Busabout tour kicked off early from Istanbul, with our first destination being Gallipoli. As an American who has never even so much as heard of Gallipoli except maybe in passing, it was very interesting to visit this WWI site with a group of mostly Australians. (In case your World History classes failed you, too, a massive battle took place here during WWI between the Turks and Allied forces made up mostly of Aussies and Kiwis.) We took a 4 hour tour of the site, and I was amazed to learn just how long and bloody a battle it really was (roughly 600,000 died here over the course of 8 months).
From Gallipoli, we crossed over the border into Greece, bound for the city of Thessaloniki. The city itself has a very interesting past — it was the birthplace of Alexander the Great, for example — but it's present-day offerings leave a bit to be desired. Today, Thessaloniki is a big university town with not much else to do other than go out and party. We did a quick (and illegal) walking tour with our Busabout guide, then had dinner at a place near the harbor.
By far the longest travel day of our tour, Day 24 saw us covering lots of ground in Greece on our way from Thessaloniki to Athens. On the way, we made a stop in Meteora to spend some time at some of the famous cliff-top monasteries there. We visited one, and stopped to take photos of a few others. DEFINITELY worth the nauseating bus ride. From Meteora, we continued on to Athens. We arrived late, so all I had time for was dinner and a quick walk around until it got dark.
After surviving Day 25, I'm convinced I can do anything. We stayed put in Athens this day, with most of us signing up for a 5-hour walking tour of the city. The price (10 Euro) was right and the guide was very knowledgable. But the temperatures soared and there were many instances where I felt like I wasn't going to make it. (The high, in case you were wondering, was 45 C, or about 113 F!) We visited places like the ancient Agora where greats like Plato would have strolled, ruins from both ancient Greek and Rome, and of course the Acropolis. The Acropolis was the only reason I signed up for this tour, and it did not disappoint. We made it there just in time, too — not 15 minutes after we left, they closed the Acropolis because of the heat. After the Acropolis and a yummy frozen yogurt to battle the midday heat, we got to watch the changing of the guard. Then it was back to the hotel for a much-deserved dip in the hotel pool before dinner.
We bid Athens farewell and headed to Parga, a small city on the coast that feels like it's been transplanted from one of the Greek islands. I LOVED this town, and honestly thought of bailing on the rest of the trip to stay here for a few days. The water was blue, the beach wasn't too crowded, and the locals were super nice. Basically, it was the Greek paradise I was hoping to find. I went to the beach for a little while with some of the girls, went shopping, and grabbed a quick dinner before the whole group met back up to watch the sun set from the Venetian fortress on the hill. This may have been my favorite day of the Busabout trip so far.
From Parga we headed over the border into Albania (quickly, too, thanks to a small bribe we made). I really had no clue what to expect from Albania, and I'm honestly still not sure what I thought of the country. Albania only discarded communism 15 years ago, and, while the country seems to be doing pretty well these days, it's clear that it's still got a long way to go. We stayed at a “beach resort” in the town of Durres, but the beach was covered in rubbish and the water not very appealing. So we hung out by the pool instead. Then we had a pretty dismal dinner, and watched the sun set over the ocean (perhaps the best part of Durres…).
We said goodbye to Albania on Day 28 after a quick stop in the capital of Tirana and another bribe (this time of money and Red Bull) at the border with Montenegro. It was clear as soon as we crossed the border that Montenegro is much further along in its development than Albania. Yes, the roads are still windy and too narrow, but at least they're paved. And, the beach near where we stayed in Budva was pristine compared to the ones we saw in Albania. After checking in to our hostel and enjoying and fresh donuts (and rakia shots for those who drink), I headed to the Budva Old Town with a few of the girls, and then we spent some time at the beach. Budva is a hopping party spot for Europeans, it seems, and I really liked the vibe. We then had a delicious home-cooked meal at our hostel before checking out the Montenegran nightlife.
The Week in Numbers
Each week, I'll try to give you an idea of how I'm traveling, and what things generally cost.
- Number of flights: 0
- Number of trains: 0
- Number of buses: Too many (basically one long ride per day)
- Number of mini buses: 0
- Number of times it's rained: 0
- Number of times I've nearly passed out from the heat: Too many — quite a few of them in Athens
- A meal in Greece: $3-$25 USD
- Entry to a Meteora monastery: $2.44 USD
- Walking tour in Athens: $12 USD
- Entry to a handful of ruins in Athens: $14.60 USD adult/$7.30 USD student
- Beach chair rental in Budva, Montenegro: $2.50 USD
- One-hour massage in Budva: $25 USD
*Note: I'm not quoting the price of accommodation, as it's mostly been included so far.
So there you have Week 4 of my European adventure! Come back next week for Week 5's round-up.
If there's anything more you want to know about my weeks, tell me in the comments!
If you missed previous weeks…
*Note: Busabout graciously provided me with a discounted Classic Balkan Trek tour. But all opinions, as always, are entirely my own.