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In an attempt to bring justice to the beauty that is the Balkan Peninsula, I wanted to give you guys a quick recap of my latest Busabout tour through a region I not only felt comfortable calling home, but would relocate to in a heartbeat if I needed a break from my nomad life.
My tour started in Istanbul, Turkey and ended in Split, Croatia passing through the countries of Greece, Albania, and Montenegro in between.
A week before my tour, I remember being in Munich at a bar (because, duh) and meeting a couple Americans who had just finished their BAR exams and were on a European jaunt celebrating their pending successful results.We were exchanging travel stories and pouring our hearts out [in sync with our beers] and when I casually mentioned I was heading down to Turkey soon, I was met with faces of shock, disgust, and concern.
“You do watch the news… right?” One says.
“Good luck not getting blown up!” The other warns.
Look out, America, you’ve got two stellar additions to your family of law soon. These fine young men not only believe everything they see on the news, but they allow it to dictate their thoughts and shape their views, because why bother thinking for yourself these days when you can conveniently turn on the news and trust the one-sided views of gatekeeping media?
Don’t answer that.
My beer and I couldn’t stand the ignorance, so we excused ourselves and made new friends as far away as possible.
These guys were prime examples of the type of people I always distance myself from. Yes, there is a war in Syria right now. But what does being in Istanbul, a city that spans over two continents, have to do with something going on with a country that borders the complete opposite side of this massive country of Turkey?
What is a passing grade in Geography for 500, Alex.
As a rule of thumb when traveling, know that there will always be good in the world as well as bad. And just because a country only gets coverage when there’s bad going on, doesn’t mean that’s all that happens in that country! Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see,
Go to places and learn about it for yourself. And if you can’t do that, do your own research from unbiased sources that aren’t getting revenue from their
So now that that quick lesson is out of the way, allow me to take you through my “Classic Balkan Tour” with Busabout including highlights, words from locals, and wallpaper-worthy photos.
Cities: Thessaloniki, Meteora, Athens, Parga
Tips: Do the Free Walking Tour with Mike & Pluto (daily departure from AthenStyle Hostel at 11am)
Coverage vs. Reality:
By the way the news covered it, you’d think the Greek economy was crumbling overnight.
I asked a local how they felt about the global coverage lately and they laughed and basically said, “Our economy has been sh*t for years. This isn’t news for us. We still go about our days like normal.” And that couldn’t look and feel more like the truth.
There was a time when banks weren’t letting Greeks withdraw more than €60 a day, but they’re past that point and even if they were on their last euros, you wouldn’t see them hiding in a corner worried about it. The people laugh and drink like there’s no tomorrow which is a reminder that money should never have so much control over our lives that it dictates our ability to live the way we want or be happy.
Cities: Gjirokastra, Tirana
Tips: Set very few expectations and allow the country to do the talking up close. You’re also better off exchanging your money at a local bakery as they will graciously offer you a better rate! The rate at the time was €1 for 130 Albanian Leks and the lady gave me 150!
Coverage vs. Reality:
Going to Albania was like going back in time. But quite literally, as we had to set our clocks backward crossing in from Greece.
When people think of the country Albania, the movie “Taken” probably comes to mind. But the only thing that was “taken” were these aerial shots from the UNESCO World Heritage town of Gjirokastra. An absolute gem hidden inside this beautifully exotic country.
When you stop setting high expectations or letting a movie shape your entire opinion about a place, you will almost always be pleasantly surprised.
Cities: Budva, Kotor, Tivat
Tips: You absolutely must climb the fortress in Kotor for one of the best aerial views of a town that I’ve ever seen! It’ll take you about an hour each way. Especially if you take photo stops on the way up (inevitable). Definitely one of the harder trekks, so bring water for the way up and beer for the way down. 😉
Coverage vs. Reality:
It was surprising to find out how few of my followers knew that Montengro was an actual country. I suppose since it’s only regained its independence back in 2006, its former Yugoslavic state was more well-known. Some fun facts I picked up:
1. Montenegrins are the 2nd tallest people in Europe, after the Dutch over in the Netherlands.
2. They use the euro, but they’re not a part of the EU, which means they don’t qualify as a Schengen zone country. So if you’re American and have used up your 90-day tourist visa roaming about Europe, you could stay in a country like Montenegro for a few months to reset your 90-day count.
3. Montenegro means “Black Mountain” and my goodness are they beautiful (the mountains and the people #hubbahubba)
4. A bartender used this golden pick-up line on me, “If you’re a potato, you’re a sweet one” so there’s that.
5. It was named the most naturally beautiful country in Europe by one of the most well-known female travel bloggers Adventurous Kate, and she couldn’t be more correct.
Cities: Dubrovnik, Split
Hostel: Silver Central Hostel
Tips: Try and avoid Old Town Dubrovnik during peak day hours. That’s when the cruise ships come with their army and unleash the hounds making the city walls so crowded to walk through and navigate.
Coverage vs. Reality:
Dubrovnik’s tourism has sky-rocketed since the rise of Game of Thrones. There are several walking tours and attractions now based around this series.
You might go in expecting a normal tourist crowd, but with cruise ships around, expect this “normal tourist crowd” size you have in mind to triple. This is what happens when there’s a sudden spike in a city’s tourism, this is the result.
Despite all of that, its beauty is undeniable and if you could find a quiet spot to take in the scenery from the old town walls, consider yourself, hashtag, BLESSED.
Disclaimer: This tour was sponsored by Busabout, but all views, opinions, and memories remain my own 🙂