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Itinerary for 2 weeks in the Balkans--questions!

Itinerary for 2 weeks in the Balkans--questions!

Old Feb 8th, 2024, 09:28 AM
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Itinerary for 2 weeks in the Balkans--questions!

Hi all, it's been a long time since I've used Fodor's Forums but I am looking for some guidance, please! My oldest is studying abroad in London this year, and we are planning to meet up for a bit. To that end, I am planning a two-week trip in the Balkans for spring break with my husband and other two teenagers. Can you please look at this itinerary (fashioned from some tour group itineraries) and provide some advice? I know it is a lot of driving, and the husband is aware of this. Questions: 1) Is this too ambitious?? If so, what would you cut out? I know it's a lot, but we are coming from Hawaii--it's a loooong flight and we may likely never return 2) How are border crossings? Do we need special visas anywhere? 3) Does hubby need an international driving license? How are car rentals? Will it be difficult to pick up and return cars in different locations? Time-consuming?

THANK YOU in advance for any advice and tips!! MAHALO!!Sunday 3/17 Arrive 5:50pm

Stay: Sofia
Monday 3/18

tour of the capital of Bulgaria, where we will see the Alexander Nevski Cathedral, the Russian Church, the Mosque, its squares and avenues of Stalinist architecture.

National Library, Sofia University, The Parliament, and continue on to the National Theatre and St. Sofia Church. Visit the houses of the Council of Ministers, presidency and the former communist party headquarters.

Stay: Sofia
Tues 3/19 fly to Bucharest, Romania

Tour ancient quarter and giant parliament palace

Stay: Bucharest
Wed 3/20 Drive to Sinaia 2 hrs.

In SINAIA, we will stroll through the gardens of the Peles and Pelisor Castles before going on to the 14th-century BRAN fortress, commonly known as Dracula’s Castle (tickets included). Time for lunch, before continuing to SIGHISOARA, a very beautiful walled medieval city and UNESCO Heritage center

Stay: Drive back to Bucharest , stay Bucharest
Thurs 3/21 8am fly from Bucharest to Belgrade, Serbia $76

bustling shopping street Knez Mihailova. Kalemegdan Park and the Belgrade Fortress with its gorgeous views over the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers with feudal cannons in display – declared a Monument of Culture of Great Importance. don’t miss popping into the gorgeous, Wes Andersonian Hotel Moskva for the best cake in Belgrade.

Stay: Belgrade
Fri 3/22 5 hr drive to Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina K FLIES TO LONDON 10:55 $23

Brief stop in the city of ZVORNIK, one of the oldest cities in Bosnia, crossed by a river that marks the border with Serbia and will make us remember with sadness the war in Bosnia. Its population has since changed a lot as most of it, Muslim, was expelled while Serb refugees from other regions settled

Bosnia & Herzegovina at Sarajevo. Home to people of various religions, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, the diverse architectural and cultural landscape is reflected all around the town. Witnessing the start of World War 1, splitting of the Eastern and Western Roman Empire, and the devastating Yugoslav War in recent history; the marks of history are hidden around every corner. Sarajevofunkytours.com guide you through the charming old town and the Bascarsija, learn all about the rich history of the country. Sarajevo is well known for its various delicious meat dishes and desserts.
  1. Mostar’s Hinterland (Kravice Waterfalls)
  2. Mountain Escapes
Stay: Sarajevo (Hotel Central?? Hotel VIP?)
Sat 3/23 Sarajevo

Climb Via Ferrata in Sarajevo 4.5 h

Stay: Sarajevo
Sun 3/24 Sarajevo

Before leaving Sarajevo we visit the Tunnel of Hope that saved the city during the Serbian siege in the war.

Drive 2.5 hours to Mostar

Drive through lush fields and valleys towards the adorable village of Mostar. Famously known for the gorgeous stone bridge in the old town, a prime example of Islamic architecture in the Balkans, designed by a student of the Great Ottoman architect, Sinan. walking tour through the Stari Most and the old carsija (market), still presenting the authentic style of the 15th century in its splendid architecture. Sample the delicious cuisine over lunch at one of the lovely venues and complete your discovery. In the afternoon, drive to Kotor, Montenegro (BORDER, 3.5 hrs)

Stay: Montenegro
Mon 3/25

Kotor: surrounded by monumental walls. Join a walking tour in the old town fortress with your expert local guide and Travel Director, wandering the labyrinthine narrow streets. You can hike to the top of the incredible fortress for spectacular views over Kotor Bay or capture the prettiest pictures of the remarkable medieval village.

Stay: Montenegro
Tues 3/26

2 hr drive to Dubrovnik,Croatia (not including BORDER), soak in the unique sight of terra-cotta tiled roofs encircled by mighty medieval walls, preserved in incredible condition. Stop for an amazing view of the old town from the overlooking hills, Franciscan Monastery with the oldest pharmacy in Europe, and the Cathedral. boat trip to LOKRUM, a small island 15 minutes by boat from Dubrovnik and home to the ruins of a Benedictine monastery of the eleventh century, popular setting of the series "Game of Thrones". take a refreshing dip in the Adriatic Sea.

Stay: Dubrovnik, CROATIA
Wed 3/27

Travel along the Croatian coastline which displays amazing seascapes and islands. We will arrive in SPLIT at noon (3 hrs). Diocletian’s Palace. We will tour this immense palace from the Roman period, its labyrinth of streets, and its sea vistas.

Stay : Split, Croatia
Thurs 3/28

We will travel to the interior region of Croatia, going through beautiful landscapes to finally arrive in PLITVICE LAKES NATIONAL PARK (2.5 hours), which has been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. We will enter the park where you can admire the park’s lakes and waterfalls. Take the opportunity to walk along the trails or take a boat and sail through the waters of the lakes. After lunch, we will travel back to the coast towards the north (3.5 HRS) Stay: POSTOJNA, SLOVENIA
FRI 3/29

We will visit POSTOJNA Cave, one of the world’s biggest caves which is partially toured by train.(1.5 hour tour) After this, we will travel to BLED,(1 hr 10) a stunning postcard town on the shore of a lake, and in the middle of the lake, there is an island where the bell tower of a monastery stands at the foot of a medieval castle. We take a boat trip around Bled’s lake and visit the monastery on the island.

STAY: BLED
Sat 3/30

We continue our trip to Slovenia’s Capital, LJUBLJANA. (1 hr) Here we will take a tour with a local guide and learn about this beautiful Central European city.

Depart Lbjubljana for Sofia, 1:05-6:10pm Lufthansa $262

Stay: Sofia
Sun 3/31

DEPART Sofia, Bulgaria
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Old Feb 8th, 2024, 11:50 AM
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Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovenia are Schengen countries so traveling between them should be seemless. Serbia, Bosnia, and Montenegro are not. You WILL have boarder crossings to contend with between them and back to the Schengen. Sometimes there are multiple, depending on the route.

To be honest, and I mean this with a lot of respect, your itinerary reads as if it was modeled off a group tour and/or an AI submission. It is really, really rushed and you are underestimating how long it takes to travel within them.

While you are going un "off season" I am not aware of what spring time breaks these countries may also have. While it may be only "2 hours from Montenegro to Dubrovnik," by researching google, it does not account for traffic (especially from Kotor on a one-lane highway) and the stop at the border. That is just an example. Also, keep in mind you will encounter weather as it will be March. Do you have enough to do if it rains in each of these places?

Consider flying multi city: In one and out the other. You'd waste valuable time in your itinerary getting back to Sofia (and an extra hotel night) for your flight home.

My suggestion is to pick just three or four places at most. Think of your itinerary in terms of nights rather than days. Three nights nets you 2 days sightseeing, 2 nights is 1 full day, etc. Imho, you are traveling a long way to get to Belgrade and Bucharest, for example, but have not actually allotted a lot of time for the distance you are going.

Edit: i see this plan have a lot of flights. Not to mention the environmental impacts, needing to travel to/from airports plus security, and so on adds time that is "hidden" and should be figured into your transit time as well.

No one here csn tell you what to cut, only you. While I applaud your inclusion of Romania, Serbia snd Bulgaria, those would be the ones I'd skip - or skip the others. For reference, I have been to this region multiple times. And have had to include most of these places over three separate trips, each 2 full weeks (or more). I have yet to go to Sofia or Bucharest (but want to!). I'd personally, focus on what you want to see the most. And start there. You can make a great trip with Ljublijana and environs, Northern Croatia with the Lakes and Split. If you have time, then go down to Dubrovnik and perhaps Kotor. A lot of these towns places deserve much more than the time you are giving them. Less is more - you want it to be a vacation, not a sprint!

Last edited by Travel_Nerd; Feb 8th, 2024 at 12:23 PM.
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Old Feb 8th, 2024, 12:21 PM
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This isn't worded like it came from your own thoughts but copy/pasted from a group tour brochure. i.e. "tour of the capital of Bulgaria, where we will see the Alexander Nevski Cathedral, the Russian Church, the Mosque, its squares and avenues of Stalinist architecture. " -- and" -- " In SINAIA, we will stroll through the gardens of the Peles and Pelisor Castles before going on to the 14th-century BRAN fortress, commonly known as Dracula’s Castle (tickets included). Time for lunch, before continuing to SIGHISOARA, a very beautiful walled medieval city and UNESCO Heritage center"

Who talks like that??

So -- My suggestion is throw that out the window and start over. Mainly because 1) it is nigh on impossible for folks traveling independently to reproduce a group tour's schedule, and 2) ther will obviously be other things you want to see/do instead of what a tour company plans.

This is waaaaay to rushed so decide which maybe three, max four, main places you want to visit in the twelve usable days and start from scratch.

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Old Feb 8th, 2024, 09:48 PM
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Hi Travel_Nerd, thank you for your prompt response! Yes, it was modeled off group tours ("fashioned from some tour group itineraries") as I didn't even know where to start. I appreciate your advice and will look to skim down a bunch of places. Unfortunately, airfares from Honolulu are high and only getting higher, so I've already bit the bullet and bought RT airfares to and from Sofia. I'll see if we can make changes to this and perhaps just visit Croatia.
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Old Feb 8th, 2024, 09:51 PM
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Thanks for your input. Yes, as I mentioned in my post, it was taken from a bunch of group tour itineraries primarily because I didn't even know where to start. We've never been to this part of the world before, and I figured tour companies would hit the major "must-see" spots. Unfortunately, none are running when we will be traveling (last two weeks of March).
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Old Feb 8th, 2024, 10:40 PM
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OK, I'm going to call Lufthansa tomorrow to see what our fare policy says about changes! I see a couple of options on Wander-Lush Balkan Road trip itineraries:
1) fly into Split, fly out of Sarajevo (10 day road-trip via Mostar)
2) Bulgaria road-trip (10 days, starting and ending in Sofia, traveling to Ruse on the first day and back to Sofia on the last day via Devin and Plovdiv.)
This might be moot depending on what Lufthansa says, but any thoughts?

Thank you!
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Old Feb 9th, 2024, 02:38 AM
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Frankly, I never saw such an idiotic plan. You see almost nothing of Bulgaria and Romania because you overfly the real gems.
Bulgaria means AT LEAST: Plovdiv, Veliko Tarnovo, Rilski Monastir, Nessebar, Varna.
Sofia isn't such interesting.
The gems of Romania are: Suceava and the surrounding monasteries, Sibiu, Brasov, Sighisoara, Cluj and may be Bucuresti.Bran castle is just a tourist trap.
Some people are fond of Maramures.
The most scenic way to go from Beograd to Montenegro is the train through the mountains.
As you are obviously not interested in the Islands (Korcula, Hvar, etc.), you could vist Mostar on the way from Dubrovnik to Split (Bus Dubrovnik - Mostar plus bus Mostar - Split).
From Plitvice, it's easier to reach Ljubljana via Zagreb.
Postojna Caves (nearby Skokjan Caves would be nicer, BTW) is a easy day trip from Ljubljana.
You plan to fly from Ljubliana to Munich and then to Sofia.
There would be a direct flight from Treviso (some 100 miles from Postojna) to Sofia, however.
I suppose you know that it costs a fortune to rent a car at Beograd and to drop it off at Ljubljana.
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Old Feb 9th, 2024, 05:59 AM
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[QUOTE=kfunasaki;17533739 Unfortunately, airfares from Honolulu are high and only getting higher, so I've already bit the bullet and bought RT airfares to and from Sofia. I'll see if we can make changes to this and perhaps just visit Croatia.[/QUOTE]

Well, since you've already purchased tickets. You can certainly see how much it would cost to change all four RT tickets. Or, perhaps make the best of it and tour the heck out of Bulgaria or maybe split a little of Bulgaria and Romania. I have only done basic research myself for my own future trips and neckervd advice above about Bulgaria is essentially what I would have chosen.

Cautionary tale to have your itinerary fully worked out to a usable plan with transit and such before purchasing flights. I know you have done a lot of traveling and am not trying to insult you but that plan above was a plan I'd expect to see from someone who has not traveled before.

Give your options some thought. I know you do not have a lot of time given the short turnaround, so maybe the easiest option (Bulgsria only) is the best option in this instance.
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Old Feb 9th, 2024, 06:51 AM
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I agree with the above - if you are flying in and out of Bulgaria, stay in and around Bulgaria. If it were my vacation, hanging out in Sofia and Bucharest airports would not be my choice. It might be cold, it might be springlike, it might be snowing, but Bulgaria has much to offer. I’m fond of Sofia - if you like art galleries and quirky little shops there are a lot of them. Sofia has some great wine bars and good restaurants. Plovdiv is much smaller, and both are energetic, lively places to visit.

if you like wine, Bulgaria has an emerging wine tourism scene. You could also visit Thessaloniki in Greece, but I’ve never done that - more research would be needed. It’s not far from Bulgaria’s Melnik region.
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Old Feb 9th, 2024, 07:01 AM
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The worst way to ruin a potential wonderful European vacation is to cram too much into a limited time frame. That’s just a fact.
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Old Feb 9th, 2024, 07:09 AM
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A trip to Thessaloniki is extremely easy: train (or bus/train if you come from Melnik) to the border town of Kulata, short taxi ride to Sidirokastsro and bus to Thesssaloniki.
There are also direct buses from Sofia to Thessaloniki.
A trip to Adrianoupolis/Edirne is even easier: train to Svilengrad - short taxi ride to Kapitan Andreevo - cross the border on foot - short taxi ride to Edirne.
There are tons of buses from Edirne to Istanbul, to the Troya area and to Izmir.
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Old Feb 11th, 2024, 11:15 PM
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"Frankly, I never saw such an idiotic plan."

OK, rude. I've already received responses letting me know that my plan was too ambitious (and much more diplomatically, I might add).

We will stay in Bulgaria and Romania and explore the "real gems" that you mention. Thank you for your input.
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Old Feb 11th, 2024, 11:23 PM
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Thank you, I understand. We would not normally be so last-minute in travel plans and so hasty with booking. On the other hand, when I told friends of the responses I'd received, they laughed and said, "They don't know how your family travels!" It's true--we once went to Scotland without accommodations and would find B&Bs for the evening as we were driving to the next town. Last year spring break, we traveled to Scandinavia and in two weeks, visited Sweden, Denmark, and did Norway in a Nutshell, along with snowboarding, dog sledding, and seeing the Northern Lights in the Arctic Circle!

We will keep our flights to and from Sofia. I'm sure it will be a great adventure regardless. Thank you for your input!
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