My Summer Plans 2017: The Balkans and Georgia


 

I’ve been waiting a long time to write this post. Especially because of the trips I’ve planned for this summer holiday (2017). Thanks to my travel destinations this summer, which I have planned since a year or two, I feel really excited and am really looking forward to visiting them – God willing! So this post is an overview of my upcoming trips in August – September 2017 including the planning and budget of it all. Let’s get started then!

*Disclaimer: as this post has been written before my trips, none of the pictures posted here are mine. Their source has been mentioned and authors credited*

Let me start by saying this – I love the Balkans! The southeastern part of Europe, especially the countries of former Yugoslavia, should be on everyone’s bucket list. Breathtaking natural landscapes and scenery, mixture of oriental and occidental cultures and religions, delicious mouthwatering food, friendly and beautiful people, and the value for money should be good enough reasons to escape from the mainstream western European destinations.

 

In many places in the Balkans, you can see mosques, orthodox, and catholic churches standing quite close to each other! (Image via Google)

 

There are debates about which countries belong to the Balkan Peninsula and which don’t. I myself always considered the Slavic and Albanian-speaking countries to be in the Balkans. But that excludes Romania and Greece, which is argued by many to be in the Balkans too. On the other hand, some parts of Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia apparently don’t belong in the peninsula, according to geography experts. So it’s really hard to figure out which countries actually belong to the peninsula. But for the sake of this post and due to my own, personal opinion, I’m going to stick with my previous thought – Slavic and Albanian-speaking countries to be in the Balkans, i.e. Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia.

 

Balkan Peninsula explained on Wikipedia

 

Having said that, the first time I stepped into a Balkan country was 4 years ago, on a June summer day in Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital city. Next month (July 2013), I’ve been to Zagreb in Croatia and Sarajevo in Bosnia Herzegovina. That’s it, I felt like I have barely seen or experienced anything. So I kept making more plans to visit the Balkans, including the countries I have already been to and other countries which are on my list. Then nearly four years later, just a few months ago in May of 2017, I have been to the Balkans for the 3rd time in Bulgaria.

 

Sarajevo Landscape (Image via ‘The Crazy Tourist’)

 

6 – 18 August 2017

The Balkans – part I

I planned two major Balkan trips this year. The first part is for three countries which I haven’t visited yet: Serbia, Kosovo, and Montenegro. The second part is revisiting two of the countries I have already been to, but with bigger and better plans to visit and experience more cities and nature in Bosnia Herzegovina and Croatia. Counting the departure on 6th August and returning home on 18th August, the first part of my Balkan trips this year spans over 13 days exactly. Whew that’s gonna be a long one; I don’t think I have ever been away on a trip so long!

After lots of careful planning and research, I ended up with an itinerary like this:

Day 1 (6th August): Air Serbia flight from Hamburg to Belgrade in the morning. Arrival in Belgrade and visiting the city.

Day 2: Spending another day in Serbia’s capital.

Day 3: Take a bus to Novi Pazar in southern Serbia and visit the city, which is the center of Sandzak region.

Day 4: Bus from Novi Pazar to Kosovo’s capital city – Prishtina.

Day 5: Spend the day in Kosovo’s beautiful city of Prizren while staying in Prishtina.

Day 6: Spend the day in Kosovo’s northern city of Mitrovica – a city divided between Kosovar Albanians in the south and Serbs in the north. Should be fascinating. This shouldn’t take much time, so go around Prishtina afterwards.

Day 7: Taking a bus from Prishtina to Podgorica via Peć/Peja I suppose (have to change buses). This seems to be the most reliable and fast way to get to Podgorica. I’ll find out more when I’m in Prishtina.

Day 8 – 10: Staying in Podgorica. But I won’t be visiting this small city all three days obviously. There are some amazing places to see around Podgorica such as the Lake Skadar, Morača River Canyons, the port city of Bar, and beautiful river views at Rijeka Crnojevića. Lots to do in Montenegro really. And nope, unlike others, I am not going to visit Kotor/Budva.

Day 11: Take the 11-hour train journey from Podgorica back to Belgrade. Looking forward to some stunning views more than the journey itself.

Day 12: Spend the day and rest in Belgrade

Day 13 (18th August): Early morning flight back to Hamburg with Air Serbia.

Sounds good? Let’s look at how I planned my budget for this 13-day voyage!

 

Belgrade Cityscape (Image via Google)

 

Budget

Let’s start with the flight. The best direct connection I would have from Hamburg is to Belgrade with Air Serbia. They are not a low-cost airline which means a return flight would cost between €200-€300 at least. I booked mine for around €230. Next important thing to book after flight are the accommodations.

I’d be staying in four cities (Belgrade, Novi Pazar, Prishtina, and Podgorica) so I needed to book four different places. As per usual, I’d be staying at budget/backpacker hostels because they are fun and cheap. But always before choosing a place, I do an intense research. There are usually several hostels in a city but I always go for the one which has a great (central) location, good reviews, and at the same time, value for money. For my stay in Belgrade, I booked ‘Downtown Central’ hostel for four nights in a six bedroom dorm. At € 12 per night, I’ll have to pay a total € 48. Of course, there are cheaper options but then there are more beds in the dorm.

Novi Pazar is unfortunately not a very touristic city like Belgrade or Novi Sad or Nis. Because of this, there aren’t any hostel accommodations there. But there is a famous hotel at the city center called ‘Hotel Vrbak’, which offers bed and breakfast at a very reasonable rate. I’m overnighting there only one night so I was not too reluctant to pay € 25 for the hotel (with breakfast included).

At Prishtina, I found two great options but chose ‘ODA Hostel’ for three nights stay for € 30 total with breakfast. Pretty great deal actually, just hope the place would be really fun to stay at. In Montenegro’s capital Podgorica, I booked four nights at ‘Montenegro Hostel Podgorica’. They seem to be also some kind of tour operators in the country because they have other hostels in Budva and Kotor and they offer trips and tours to different places in the country, so I suppose they must be running a huge business! Anyway, my dorm bed cost me € 13 for a night including breakfast, so for four nights I’ll have to pay € 52.

So the total accommodation budget stands at € 155.

 

Gjakova, Kosovo by Kinga Madro at floatingmyboat.com

 

Let’s see…flight and hostels are booked. But of course, I’ll need to take costs of city public transport/taxis as well buses/trains from one city to another into consideration. Let me say this here, you can’t buy bus or train tickets online in Serbia, Kosovo, or Montenegro. The best option is to buy at the station or from the bus driver. But you can still check timetables and prices online. I decided that I’ll take a taxi from Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport to my hostel and also the other way around when I leave. The Balkan region is currently experiencing a major heat wave and it is going to be there when I’ll be there too unfortunately. So I thought I’ll take taxi as it’s easier and convenient. The taxis have a fixed fare from the airport to the part of the city they operate to. Here’s my breakdown of all transport costs.

Taxi from Belgrade Airport – city center – Belgrade Airport: € 30 (both ways)

3-day city transport ticket in Belgrade: € 7 (one day card is just € 2,30 or 280 Dinars)

Bus from Belgrade to Novi Pazar: € 10

Taxi to move around in Novi Pazar: ~€10

Bus from Novi Pazar to Prishtina: € 10

Taxi to move around in Prishtina: ~€ 10 (Bus costs € 0,40 for a single ride)

Bus Prishtina – Prizren – Prishtina: € 10 (return)

Bus Prishtina – Mitrovica – Prishtina: € 5 (return)

Bus Prishtina – Peja (Peć) – Podgorica: € 15

Taxi in Podgorica + Bar: ~€ 20

I think that’s around € 130 (I added a bit extra just in case) for all the transport related costs.

 

Prizren, Kosovo (Credits to Sarah and Kris at Jetsettingfools.com)

 

And nope, I definitely didn’t forget costs for food. Depending on how cheap or expensive a destination is, I usually budget my food at between € 10 to € 20 each day. For my trips this summer, I decided a figure of € 15 per day should be good enough. As this is a 13-days long trip, then 13*15 = € 195 is budgeted on food. Let’s see whether I can spare more or spend higher on food!

Last but not least, I set aside at least € 90 for tours and other extras. And all of that is going to be needed in Montenegro to visit the beautiful lakes and canyons as there are barely any public transportation to take you to those places! So I’ll have to either book tours or hire someone to take me there and pay him 😉

If my calculation is correct, then my total budget for the first Balkan trip this summer comes to a total of 800 euros!

Let’s move on to my next plan for this summer.

 

Morača Canyon (Image via Panoramio)

 

23 – 28 August 2017

Batumi, Georgia

In recent years, Georgia gained popularity among travelers of all age, but mostly it gained attention from the young generation of travelers like us. And just like anything else these days, the internet helped attract the world to visit Georgia’s beautiful mountains, landscapes, peoples, and cultures. Few years ago I read extensively about the country and looked up for pictures on the internet to learn more. Then came the trend of travel blogging, and many bloggers or travel writers have started to portray Georgia in the blogosphere. Not to forget the stunning photos on Instagram either. So about 1.5 or 2 years ago, I planned to visit Georgia sometime in 2017.

 

Georgian Landscape! (Image via Google)

 

For some reason, the capital city Tbilisi didn’t grab my attention much (and still doesn’t). My feeling towards Georgia goes more to the western part of the country and the second largest city on the Black Sea coast, Batumi. 2017 arrived and Batumi was still stuck on my list of places to travel this year. Initially I planned to visit during the Christmas holidays. But I moved the dates forward to August as I figured I’d have more free time and can squeeze in one more trip for couple of days. As I’d have at least two weeks off between my first and second Balkan trips of this year, I decided to search for a flight to Batumi sometime during these two weeks.

 

Batumi (Image via Wikimedia)

 

Fortunately, I found a good deal with Turkish Airlines (Hamburg – Istanbul – Batumi – Istanbul – Hamburg) for € 400. The departure would be on 23rd August at night, reaching Batumi next morning and return on 28th August at night from Batumi. Batumi itself is a small city and doesn’t really need more than 2 days to visit but I had to book it this way to take advantage of the low price. On the other hand, it would give me the perfect opportunity to explore and experience Georgia’s natural beauty and luckily for me, Batumi was located near to some of the most important and beautiful national parks, waterfalls, mountains, and canyons of the country! And this is how I planned to spend my days there:

23rd August: Departure flight to Batumi via layover in Istanbul with Turkish Airlines.

24th August: Morning arrival in Batumi. Check-in to Calypso Hostel. Explore around the city.

25th August: Visit Makhuntseti Waterfalls and explore the city afterwards.

26th August: Day trip to Mtirala National Park.

27th August: Day trip to Martvili Canyons.

28th August: Rest, explore Batumi if there is anything left. Depart Batumi with Turkish Airlines in the evening.

 

Excited to fly Turkish Airlines again after nearly 4 years! (Image by Ken Fiedling on Flickr)

 

Budget

One of the reasons Georgia has been attracting young travelers is that this former Soviet Union country offers quite a lot without leaving your wallets empty. I haven’t been there yet but I imagine it is similar to most eastern European countries when it comes to prices, at least from what I could see on the internet. The only thing which takes up a bulk of your budget is the flight. Of course that depends on where you’re flying from, but I’d say at least two-thirds or a three quarters of your budget would be spent on the flight, which for me was € 400.

A four-nights stay at the Calypso Hostel (6-bedroom dorm) set me back € 42 total (€10,50 per night). Then I set aside about € 10 for taxis or buses. The city is mostly walkable so I’ll mostly need to spend on the transfer between airport and the city. And perhaps some bus fares to Makhuntseti Waterfalls.

Once again I budgeted the food costs at € 15 per day, so 15*5 days = € 75 there. Round that all up, it comes to € 130 right? Then there are tours to pay for day trips to Mtirala National Park and Martvili Canyons. There are several tour companies which offer day trips to these places and their prices are more or less the same. Of course, it is more favorable to go with a group tour as it’s cheaper. Individual tours are going to cost at least 3 times more the price of group tours. Anyway, I set aside € 70 for both of the tours.

That makes my total budget for Batumi/Georgia at € 600. Let’s see (and hope) that I don’t really have to spend more than that when I’m there 😉

 

Martvili Canyons (Image via Google)

 

2 – 18 September 2017

The Balkans – Part II

If you thought that my 13-days-long Balkan trip was a lot, then wait for this one. From all the three trips, this is perhaps the one I am looking forward to the most. Probably because it partially involves a bit of going ‘back in time’. I’m visiting just two countries in my second Balkan trip of this year, and I have already been to both of them – Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina. But while I was there 4 years ago, I have only visited their capital cities – Zagreb and Sarajevo. They are only the tip of the iceberg, one might put it that way. I felt incomplete back then because there was so much to see and experience in both of these countries! And while I loved Croatia a lot, Bosnia Herzegovina has, and will always have a special place in my heart <3

 

Jajce Waterfalls in Bosnia (Image via Panoramio)

 

Oh and I chose September because I’m hoping it would be less crowded and less touristy. Usually it’s between June and August when visitor numbers peak in Croatia as well as in Bosnia. Plus hopefully the weather won’t be annoyingly hot. Fingers crossed!

In both countries, I planned to visit four cities this time. In Croatia, I’m going to be starting my trip in Split, then moving onto Rijeka and staying few days in Zagreb before heading for the border to Bosnia Herzegovina, where my first stop is at the city of Banja Luka. After one night’s stay in the city, I’ll be finally heading to one of my favorite cities in this world – Sarajevo! While staying there, I planned to visit Bosnia’s third largest city Tuzla for a day. Finally, I’ll be heading to beautiful Mostar before entering Croatia again to visit the fourth city Dubrovnik. I had plans to visit Mostar last time I was in Bosnia, but unfortunately it didn’t work out. Funny thing though, not a lot of people knew about Mostar back then and it wasn’t so touristy as it is today. But today (‘thanks’ to Instagram and Travel Blogs) the city seems to be on everyone’s bucket list lol.

 

Mostar, Bosnia Herzegovina (Image via Google)

 

Anyway, at 17 days total, this is hopefully going to be my longest trip ever. I have never been away from home for so long before so I’m really hoping everything goes well and smoothly according to my plan, which looks like this:

Day 1 (2nd September): Direct afternoon flight to Split from Hamburg with Eurowings. Evening arrival to Split and strolling around the city.

Day 2: Day trip to Krka National Park with Krka Tours – can’t wait to see this beautiful gem! Then I’m taking the night bus at 10 PM to Rijeka.

Day 3: Early morning arrival to Rijeka and visiting the city whole day.

Day 4: Early morning departure (5:30 AM) by train from Rijeka to Zagreb. Arrival and exploring Zagreb the whole day.

Day 5: Will be spending a second day in Zagreb – yes, I love this city too!

Day 6: Day trip to Plitvice National Park with Zagreb daytrips –  about time too!

Day 7: I’m taking the morning bus at 6:30 AM to Banja Luka (did the same last time when I went to Bosnia from Croatia). Hope to arrive Banja Luka on time by 10 AM and plan to visit the city as well as nearby the beautiful place called Krupa na Vrbasu (Spring/Waterfalls of Vrbas river).

Day 8: 7:45 AM bus to Sarajevo which takes like 5 hours. But the views on the way are quite breathtaking as I remember from last time. Hope to arrive in Sarajevo before 1 PM so that I can have enough time to explore this gorgeous city I love so much!

Day 9: Of course, Sarajevo can’t be visited in just one day. Therefore, a second day planned to spend in this city.

Day 10: This is the day I reserved to visit Tuzla, which will take most of the day. Should be fascinating.

Day 11: Spending most of the day in Sarajevo until about 4 PM. Then taking the 4:26 PM train to Mostar. Hope to wander around this beautiful city at night.

Day 12: Time to explore Mostar and its surroundings. Let’s see if I can make it to Blagaj!

Day 13: I plan to do a day trip called “Discover Herzegovina Tour” which is a tour of Blagaj, the beautiful medieval and ottoman village of Počitelj, and includes visiting the gorgeous Kravice waterfalls.

Day 14: I kept this day as a reserved day to spend in Mostar, or visit the waterfalls in Kravice by myself if something doesn’t work out with the tours.

Day 15: Taking the 10:15 AM bus to Dubrovnik and hope to arrive before 2 PM. Really looking forward to visiting this beautiful walled city!

Day 16: After about 24 hours in the city, leaving Dubrovnik in the afternoon for a 5-hours bus journey back to Split.

Day 17: I have until noon to explore Croatia’s second largest city because at 3 PM, I’ll have to catch my return flight back to Hamburg.

While traveling in Croatia and Bosnia is certainly cheaper than western European standards, a 17-days-long trip like this is surely going to make my wallet lighter :p. And that’s just from the budget plan I made, who knows how much more or less it would in real hm? Let’s have a look.

 

Split, Croatia (Image Courtesy of ‘Chasing The Donkey’)

 

Budget

Flight: € 300…and yes, with Eurowings, which everyone knows to be a budget airline. But this price makes it look like I’m flying Lufthansa or something. I guess it’s cause of the high season. FYI, the price includes € 30 luggage fee both ways and it’s a return flight, not one way (Hamburg – Split – Hamburg).

Accommodation

2 nights altogether at the Hostel Split in Split = € 29

1 night at the Hostel Korzo right in the heart of Rijeka’s old town = € 13,50

3 nights at the Chillout Hostel in Zagreb, located also at the city center = € 47

1 night at the Hostel Balkan in Banja Luka = € 11

3 nights at the Hostel Vagabond at the heart of Sarajevo’s amazing old town = € 42

4 nights at ‘Hostel Backpackers’ in Mostar, just a stone’s throw from the world-famous Old Bridge (Stari Most) = € 40

1 night at Hostel Marker in Dubrovnik’s old town = € 33

So that gives about € 216. Quite a lot compared to the first trip isn’t it? Also it’s important to note that while hostels still have reasonably good prices in Bosnia Herzegovina, in Croatia however, they cost much higher, especially during the summer season. For costs of food however, I will once again stick with the usual math of € 15 per day. So I expect to spend 15*17 days = around € 255 on food for this whole trip.

 

Zagreb Skyline (Image via Zagreb360.hr)

 

Let’s move on to the next item to consider for the budget – inner-city public transport and intercity bus/train costs. While none of the bus or train tickets were bookable online on the first Balkan trip, it was a different situation here. For Croatia, you can easily book bus and train tickets online and for Bosnia, if the buses are intercity buses operated by Centrotrans or Globtour Medjugorje, then you can also book the tickets online on their websites. Train tickets in Bosnia are still not bookable online. So except the Sarajevo-Mostar train, I could book everything else.

Split is pretty easy to navigate by walking, so the only cost in this city would be the € 5 needed for transferring between the airport and city center.

The bus from Split to Rijeka cost me € 29. Rijeka is also easily walkable as most of the sights are in the old town center.

The Train from Rijeka to Zagreb was € 16. I will need a 3-days ticket in Zagreb for € 10.

Bus from Zagreb to Banja Luka € 12, but in Banja Luka I’ll have to spend for taxis few times, especially for transferring between the bus station and my hostel and also to visit Krupa na Vrbasu and back. I set aside € 50 for it all.

 

Krupa na Vrbasu (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

 

A Centrotrans bus ticket from Banja Luka to Sarajevo online was € 14,50. The central areas as well as the old town (Stari Grad) of Sarajevo is easily walkable. Therefore, I might need only two ‘Day Cards’ for two days at € 5 (one is for € 2,50).

Although you can’t buy train tickets online in Bosnia, you can check the timetables and prices. According to the website of Federation of Bosnia Herzegovina Railways, the train ticket should cost € 5 from Sarajevo to Mostar.

Mostar is also easily navigable by foot and so, public transport is almost unnecessary unless you’re going to Blagaj or Počitelj or Kravice falls by bus or taxi. But the bus from Mostar to Dubrovnik costs around € 14.

 

Blagaj Tekija (Image via Wikipedia)

 

Beautiful village of Počitelj (Image by Elvir72 on Pinterest)

 

For obvious reasons, public transport is not needed inside the walls of Dubrovnik old town and if you’re staying somewhere in or around the area. But you do need about € 20 to walk the city walls and go up the cable car to see the view of the old town from the top – both of them are highly recommended and a must-do for anyone visiting the city!

And finally, a bus from Dubrovnik back to Split costs about € 16.

Before I round up all the costs, there are some extra costs to be considered, especially for some of the tours I will be doing.

The day tour to Krka National Park: € 29

Daytrip to Plitvice National Park: € 70

Both of them I already booked online. However, I still haven’t officially booked the Herzegovina Tour which I plan to do in Mostar. I informed them via email that I’ll be doing the tour on 14th September and they kept me on the reservation calendar. But according to their website, the tour is around € 30 – € 35.

Adding up all the transportation and tour costs, that gives like € 330.

 

Can’t wait to visit this wonderful heaven! (Image via Google)

 

Kravice Falls in Bosnia (Image by ‘Two Drifting Coconuts’)

 

So all in all, my total budget for this Balkan trip seems to come at € 1101… or let’s say € 1150 to be on the safe side. Whew…last time I spent that much on a trip was to Cape Town! Let’s hope it will be all really worth it.

I just realized, that the second Balkan trip sounds like a round-tour through two countries. Starting at Split, going around Croatia and Bosnia before finishing in Split again :-D. So there you are ladies and gentlemen, I hope I didn’t bore you with all the details of my plans for this summer holiday. Because this can be also useful for you if you’re planning one or more Balkan trips sometime! I really hope that my information would be useful and helpful at the same time.

 

Krka National Park (Image Courtesy of Krka Park’s Website)

 

Dubrovnik from the top! (Image by ‘TrekEarth’)

 

Naturally after my trips this summer, I’ll be back to blogging once again because there will be so much to share with all of you and write about! I really can’t wait to take some awesome pictures and have a wonderful experience once again in the Balkans and in Georgia. Yep, I’ll definitely be broke after that, but you know, what’s like without a little bit of fun and risk right? As they say, you only live once!

For now though, God willing (or InshaAllah) I hope that everything goes as good as it possibly can according to my plans/itineraries and budgets. See you later!

P.S. I do hope that I can at least take photos as good as the ones I found on the internet and posted here 😀

 

Love this city so much – Sarajevo! (Image by Julian Nitzsche on Wikipedia)

 

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