Our excitement was brewing as we were greeted by our tour guide Simon in our amazing hotel. Simon was very welcoming and had a wealth of knowledge about the Balkans. After an informative briefing where the tour was explained in detail, we were able to mingle with others on the tour. The tour group went out for dinner with Simon as a way to break the ice and get to know everyone. We had a delicious Bulgarian feast. What a way to start day one!
After a good sleep and feeling well rested, we hopped on the coach to set off to our next destination. We traveled across the Serbian border to the city of Belgrade. On arrival to Belgrade, Simon took us back in time to reflect and experience what it was like to be living in the middle of a war zone. Belgrade was a fascinating site of ruble and culture that merged into a new city following the hard times in history. After an action packed hour walking the streets of Belgrade and exploring the medieval Belgrade Fortress, we watched as the sun fell over the Danube and Sava rivers. It was beautiful! Following a few timely photos we packed the bus for our short journey to the nearby hotel. It was here that we were surprised to meet our second guide of the tour, Aykut. Aykut added some instant value by sharing a few jokes and showing us to our rooms. The day of adventure had taken its toll on a few and took out a few casualties. Some decided to stay in to ensure they were well rested for the next day. The rest of us ventured the streets to find some food. We came across a restaurant called Grill Rankooie which I highly recommend – mixed meat on a tabata bread, best burger of my life!
Day 3 started at 7:00am with a buffet breakfast, followed by an 8:00am departure. We began our journey towards Sarajevo. One of the highlights of our trip was how united we became with the others on the tour. We spent a lot of time with the tour group and it enabled us to create great memories with great people, from playing card games on the bus, organising nights out and regularly sharing jokes so spending time on a bus with great people wasn’t a problem at all. Once we arrived in the unique and quaint town, we had a quick bite to eat with our new friends and was greeted by a local tour guide. She took us through the narrow streets of Sarajevo discussing the history and facts of the must see town. After completing our walking tour, we were given some free time to explore the town. A group of us decided to share a toast to the town and sit at a local bar to reflect on the day we had. Luckily for us, it was also happy hour. The day finished up back at our hotel where we all migrated towards the bar to again mingle (notice the trend here… ?) This is where Aykut really lit the place up with some hilarious jokes and banter that had us all in stitches all night long.
Day 4 was one we could not wait for – we were heading to Mostar! Along the way, the coach had a pit stop where we were shown a view point that overlooked Hercegovacko – Neretvanski Kanton. The view showed crystal clear water, the bluest I have ever seen and surrounded by vibrant green trees. After a few moments of taking in the view, loading stories to Instagram, and devouring some famous local roast lamb we hopped back on the bus and arrived in Mostar within half an hour. We were greeted by a tour guide who showed us around the small alley ways of Mostar and lead us down many cobble stone paths that were filled with local boutiques. After the tour, we were given free time where most of us decided to go for a dip in the freezing cold fresh water of Bosnia. The decision was welcomed due to the heat. While jumping in and out of the water, there were locals busking to take the daring jump off the Mostar bridge. We were lucky enough to see a few brave locals plunge off the bridge but none of us dared the attempt but enjoyed the spectacle. After a few amazing hours in Mostar, we hopped back on the bus to head to our hotel. Again, once at the hotel, we decided on a meeting time for dinner before residing to our rooms to freshen up in preparation of another social night with everyone. We sang and danced in a local bar which was so much fun!!
Day 5 we made our way across the Croatian border to Dubrovnik. Even with a sore head from the previous nights festivities we were still very excited and filled with anticipation with what lay ahead. This was probably my favorite day. On arrival to Dubrovnik we were given the option to do two tours; the town walking tour and the Game of Thrones walking tour. Of course we decided to do both! First, we went on the town walking tour where the guide explored the town with us and provided us with a wealth of knowledge about the towns rich and famous history. With a quick transition, we ran to the meeting point to began the Games of Thrones walking tour. We were shown the locations of specific scenes in Games of Thrones and how the city ran as the production was happening. The tour was extremely enjoyable and provided many insights and secrets that are now kept locked away in the walls of Kings Landing. Following the exploration of Dubrovnik, the tour went to sea! We boarded a boat to a small island off Dubrovnik called Lopud. Once landing on the island of Lopud, we rode golf buggies to a beach on the other side of the island, where we relaxed in the sun for the afternoon before setting sail back to the mainland. After our amazing day exploring Lopud and Dubrovnik, we made tracks to our hotel where Simon and Ahkud organised a karaoke night. We sang and danced the night away! I felt a bit sorry for the other poor guests having to put up with me singing Celine Dion, My Heart Will Go On but enjoyable all the same.
On the 6th day we traveled to Montenegro. The bus stopped at a look at point with an astonishing 360 view of the surrounding landscape. Every bit of the drive towards Kotor reminded how captivating Europe is. We explored the city before treating ourselves to some fresh local catch for lunch. The tour then departed Kotor and made our way to Budva. We were able to check into our hotel early this day (located opposite the beach) which allowed us to have a relaxing afternoon by the water in the sun. Simon and Aykut booked tables at the local restaurant situated on the beach. We had an enjoyable dinner and hit some bars and clubs afterwards. A group of us ventured to a gig nearby where there was some live music. The night was memorable!
Day 7 was jam packed with 3 countries in one day. A massive feat for an explorer so after filling ourselves up on a buffet breakfast, we said goodbye to Montenegro and adjusted the compass for Albania where we stopped in the city of Tirana for lunch and a walking tour. Back on the bus for the final leg of the day where we finished in Ohrid, Macedonia. Our hotel was situated on a beach surrounded by beach bars and restaurants. The sunset this night was spectacular, so El and I snuck away for a quiet drink on the lake side before the bus departed for dinner. This was by far the longest day on the bus but again what made it so enjoyable was playing some games, witty jokes of Aykut and the detailed facts and stories by Simon. That evening we went to a traditional Balkan night where there was an endless amount of traditional food followed by traditional Balkan dancing.
Following a good nights sleep, we were happy to know that today was guaranteed to be filled with fun and excitement and what a treat it was! The day started with a short trip to the Monestry of Saint Naum to explore the unforgettable architecture of the buildings and inside interiors. After, we decided to get a small row boat around the natural springs. It was an extremely peaceful and mesmerizing experience where we were able to see nature up close and personal. The water was so clear you could see the springs bubbling deep below from the surface. We even had time to have a quick dip in Lake Ohrid. After this, we went to the old town where the group split and some of the crew went on a walking tour, whilst another group of us decided to spend our time basking in the sun, eating food and sipping on cocktails. As the sunset on another day and the curtain was coming down as the last night on the tour we jumped on the bus and made way for Skopje. Here we celebrated our last night all together and to the new friends made by enjoying a beer singing songs long into the night.. The last day finished up with a walking tour of Skopje. The tour gave us an insightful view of Skopje and the towns history. We then boarded the bus to begin our journey back to Sofia. Once we reached Sofia,we said our goodbyes to our new good friends, along with our amazing bus driver and our fantastic tour guides, Simon and Aykut. It was an unforgettable experience that I’m so thankful for.
Thank you so much to Vibe and the Travel Talk team for the trip of a lifetime!