Potential trip - Balkans

Old Jan 1st, 2015, 06:14 PM
  #1  
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Potential trip - Balkans

OK, putting this out there to garner the expertise of the Fodorite community....

Last year my sister and I went to Argentina and Chile and had a wonderful time, thanks in no small part to the wonderful "folks" (I just gave away my age, didn't I??) here on the Fodor's forum. My sister is angling for another trip this year, however I have to juggle my entire family's needs. So, if I can come up with an interesting enough, and reasonably priced enough, trip then who knows..perhaps another trip with my sis is in the cards.

We live in Canada and like to go to places that have a different character (we've been to Havana and Sicily as well) than what we see here in North America and experiencing things that are slightly off the regular tourist track. We like meeting people, exploring local regions, understanding recent history, experiencing different cultures, enjoying local food/drink, lovely scenery, etc. We generally like to experience a couple of places, staying for at least a few days, often in an apartment, rather than moving daily. If we did a trip it would likely be for about 11 or 12 days, excluding travel from Canada, and would preferably take place in April or May and would likely revolve around using public transportation, rather than using a rental car. (We would consider renting a car for a few days, though, if situation was right.)

My first idea was a trip to Albania, as I had just read a recent article on that interesting country. It's definitely off the tourist track, and I suspect we would hire a driver to drive us to a couple of places. However, I subsequently stumbled across a reference to Sarajevo and my heart was turned. A few years ago I read the Cellist of Sarajevo. I loved that story and my heart was forever broken for the people of that city.

So, my thoughts are that we could organize a trip around the following region ...Sarajevo, Mostar and the Dalmation coast. I could see us staying in Sarajevo for a few nights, take the train to Mostar and have an overnight stay there, and then continue to the Croatian coast. I love the idea of Korcula, but the bus routes from Mostar seem more aligned to either Dubrovnik and Split. On the surface, I have a gut feeling that we would be more interested in Split, as Dubrovnik seems even more touristy than Split.

I would appreciate ideas, particularly in light of the fact that we would have to arrange flights into and out of the region. A major city in the region (Zagreb? Belgrade? Budapest? Llubjana?) might make an interesting entry or exit point, but I wouldn't want to spend too much of our precious travel time traveling back and/or forth too much.

Also, if we end up going to the Dalmation coast, particularly in the northern half, the weather in late April/early May looks a bit rainy. Has anyone been in the mid-north Dalmation coast region at that time of year?

Thoughts?

Thanks in advance!!
geenance is offline  
Old Jan 1st, 2015, 06:28 PM
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A couple of years ago I spent 2 weeks in Slovenia and northern Croatia in the first two weeks in May. Weather was perfect--one day of drizzle, the others sunny and mild (sweater weather, but added light jacket in early evening). When we moved on to Dubrovnik for the last 8 days of the trip, it was sunny every day and warm enough to skip sweater even. I live in New England so you can consider that when thinking about what I mean by mild and warm.
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Old Jan 1st, 2015, 06:41 PM
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@irishface -- ha ha!

I appreciate the weather references. As we live in Southern Ontario I suspect our weather is at least as warm, if not a couple of degrees warmer. I remember that I was surprised when I went to Florence/Tuscany in late March/early April and the weather in Toronto was warmer. A few years later I went to Sicily in early May, expecting very warm weather. It turned out that they had unseasonably cold weather and it was much warmer in Toronto. We rarely took off our jackets. So much for the Med!

We aren't looking for beach weather, but it would be nice if it wasn't cloudy and damp. In any case, it isn't the beaches that are our main interest.

But then, again, Albania would be much warmer at that time of year, correct? (says the person that thought that when she went to Sicily in May!)
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Old Jan 1st, 2015, 07:02 PM
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kja
 
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I visited these places in late May, and thought it perfect. (But, of course, the weather could be different when you are there!) I flew into Sarajevo, spent several days in that wonderful city, then train to Mostar, which is well worth an overnight, particularly because it wonderful to watch the sunset over the gorge and because it is much more pleasant after day trippers leave. Then I took a bus on to Dubrovnik, from which you can take a bus/ferry to Korcula. You can then get a ferry from Korcula to Split. You can do all of that in 11 or 12 days if you plan it carefully and put up with several short (1 or 2 night) stays -- 3 or 4 nights in Sarajevo, 1 night in Mostar, 2 or 3 nights in Dubovnik, a night in Korcula, then say 3 nights in Split..

BTW, if possible, consider making time for the Plitvice Lakes National Park before leaving the country -- it may be Croatia's most magnificent site (and Croatia is spectacularly beautiful). You can use public buses to get from Split to the Plitvice Lakes, but for that stretch, a car can be a decided benefit. Try to spend the night in Plitvice and plan on 6 or more hours in the park. You can then either go back to Split or on to Zagreb for your flight home.

BTW, the Rough Guide was by far the best of the half dozen guidebooks I used when planning my trip to the area.

Hope that helps!
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Old Jan 1st, 2015, 07:59 PM
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Click on my name for my Balkan TR. I was going in the other direction from kja, from Albania through Montenegro to Dubrovnik for the bus to Mostar and Sarajevo. Loved Sarajevo, Mostar not so much. If you go through Dubrovnik try for a day with few(er) cruise ships. See http://www.portdubrovnik.hr/girica1.php

Loved Plitvice when I was there in 2004, I used buses, but it is easier with a car.
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Old Jan 1st, 2015, 10:11 PM
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In June of 2013 our daughter and I spent 12 days touring in a loop from Vienna-Zagreb-Sarajevo-Belgrade-Istanbul-Vienna. My impressions of the trip, including the public transportation and lodging options, are under my name here on the forum. The trip rates as one of our favorites.
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Old Jan 2nd, 2015, 12:09 AM
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I was in Budapest in august and I fell in love. Its relatively affordable city. There are a lot of things to do. You can go on a boat trip through the Danube, visit there world famous thermals baths, and visit some of there really cool ruin bars. I cannot wait to go back!
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Old Jan 2nd, 2015, 02:40 AM
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It's a pity you've scrapped Albania.
I wouldn't call it a beautiful country but it's certainly different. A real mix of Balkan cultures and religions.
For me the prettiest part is in the east, on Lake Ohrid on the Macedonian border. Pogradec is a nice town on the lakeside.
There are also some fine beaches in the north of the country.
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Old Jan 2nd, 2015, 07:07 PM
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Thank you everyone for commenting with your suggestions!

I sat down over an hour ago to reply and found myself caught up in reading your various trip reports (some of which I had previously read, but of course those led me to others).

fourtotravel and kja, I read about your travels previously and they gave me many great ideas (including the train to Mostar). I'm not sure if the ferry from Dubrovnik runs during early May from Dubrovnik to Korcula. Does anyone know for sure? I presume we would have to take the bus up the coast and the short ferry ride over to Korcula.

I definitely want to avoid Dubrovnik when cruise ships are in port! Thanks for the link to the schedule, thursdaysd. Nothing like being in a crowded, walled city with thousands of your closest friends. The cruises are clearly great for some people, but I prefer less crowded opportunities to explore. I notice that you said you didn't like Mostar. I haven't quite made it through your Balkan report so haven't hit the reason yet. I will certainly continue reading when I get a chance over the weekend.

I'm almost thinking that we should simply give a miss to Dubrovnik (is that heresay??) and focus on the Sarajevo to Split line, with a final departure from Zagreb, or else a flight from Split to Munich, with a few days there, which will make a direct flight home easier.

Appia, due to our time constraints and the fact that we've never been in the region, I think Albania is just a bit too far off the track for this trip. Perhaps a later trip where we could combine northern Greece, Macedonia and Albania might work. I do think that meeting the people there would be great. Who knows what the future holds.

Keep those suggestions coming!
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Old Jan 2nd, 2015, 07:12 PM
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*heresy (not heresay!!)

I also noticed that in my original post a misspelled Ljubljana. (My apologies to all Ljubljaners!)
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Old Jan 2nd, 2015, 07:33 PM
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kja
 
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I'm reasonably certain (but not 100% -- you'll need to check) that you can take the bus from Dubrovnik to Korcula ANY day year-round. You board the bus in Dubrovnik; the bus crosses over on a ferry, for which you pay nothing extra; you get off in Korcula Town. Here's some info:
http://www.korculainfo.com/bus/bus-d...ik-korcula.php

I visited Mostar 5 years after thursdaysd did, by which time a number of things had re-opened that might have been closed when she was there. I certainly can't speak for her, but I would think that would make a HUGE difference. I really enjoyed my time in Mostar, despite a number of remaining scars from the war. YMMV.

If Dubrovnik doesn't pull at your heart, well, you've got a LOT on your plate for this trip. That said, I'm really glad I saw it AND the spectacularly gorgeous coast to its north (which could be seen on the bus from Mostar) When I was there (mid-May 2009), it was NOT overrun by people from cruise ships. Again, YMMV. If the timing works, you might give it a least a night or two, as it is, IMO, a very beautiful and unique place.

"...or else a flight from Split to Munich, with a few days there..."

Definitely a possibility, but Munich is probably relatively easy for you to reach; Split and Zagreb, probably not so much. You might want to consider maximizing your time in lovely Croatia while you are there!
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Old Jan 2nd, 2015, 07:58 PM
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Acrually, kja, I think you may have been in Mostar before me. Plitvice was a different trip and I was in Mostar in 2011.

It wasn't that I didn't like Mostar at all, I just wasn't as imprssed as a lot of people seem to be. I found it rather depressing, and I had bad weather which didn't help.
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Old Jan 2nd, 2015, 08:18 PM
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Sorry, thursdaysd, I obviously didn't check before I wrote! I'm glad you set the record straight.
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Old Jan 3rd, 2015, 10:33 AM
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We have flown to Sarajevo twice on Lufthansa via Munich which worked well at least from Boston. Both of our trips were in the fall and we had very good weather. I have no experience with weather in May.

I wrote a fairly long trip report about Sarajevo and the Dalmatian coast after our trip in 2010. We missed Mostar that time but saw it in 2012. I would include it and try to stay overnight and see Blagaj, too, if possible. (There are buses that go from Mostar)

The train trip from Sarajevo to Mostar is definitely worth it for anyone who has any interest in engineering--many tunnels.

Dubrovnik is a beautiful city, but of the two we preferred Split.
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Old Jan 3rd, 2015, 02:02 PM
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We've traveled to the Balkans several times, but we haven't made it to Split yet (tried twice and ran out of time each time), but in my opinion, Dubrovnik and the Dalmation coast are heaven on earth. I think it would be a shame to go that far and not spend at least a day or two in Dubrovnik. I agree with the other posters, that you should try to go at a time when the cruise ships aren't in; it will be a much better experience! If you go and if you're physically up to it, walk the wall; it's breathtaking on a nice day.

We drove through the northern part of Albania to Berat several years ago. It's a beautiful country, but I'd vote for Sarajevo instead. Not to add more to your itinerary, but the Adriatic coast of Montenegro is also beautiful, and it's an easy drive from southern Croatia. I call it "Croatia lite" since it's not as touristy as the area around Dubrovnik. In any event, you'll have a wonderful experience, and I suspect that you'll fall in love as we have with the Balkans!
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Old Jan 3rd, 2015, 06:08 PM
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I read an article recently that in 2014 there have been 1 million cruise ship passengers to Dubrovnik, a four-fold increase from only 10 years ago. Is there anyone left living in the old city? How do they handle the hordes? I guess some of them benefit economically, but it still must be a huge pain. But ellen, you've put forward a persuasive argument about visiting! Timing is everything I guess.

Vttraveler, yes, it looks like there's pretty good/reasonably priced connections through Munich from Toronto as well. And, Lufthansa does some code-sharing with Air Canada. One reason I thought about possibly extending a layover for a couple of days in Munich is that the connection if flying out of Split, involves a 5-hour layover at Munich. Perhaps kja is right though, and we should keep our focus on the Balkans.
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Old Jan 3rd, 2015, 06:44 PM
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Despite the increase in the number of cruise ship passengers visiting Dubrovnik, I believe there have also been new restrictions on the number of cruise ships in that port. It is a beautiful city, small enough to be enjoyed in a day or so, and easy to appreciate once the day trippers leave. My recommendation: Don't write it off unless it really doesn't fit your itinerary.

Like Vttraverler, and unlike MANY Fodorites, I LOVED Split. But I think you have enough time to visit both and do both some justice.

BTW, do consider a half-day visit to Trogir from Split.

If it works out for you to do so, I don't think you'll regret any time you spend in this magnificent corner of the world.
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Old Jan 3rd, 2015, 07:45 PM
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"and easy to appreciate once the day trippers leave' - I just realized that this statement could be misread. My intended meaning = once day trippers leave, it is easy to see how beautiful Dubrovnik is! There are some things in the city that are, IMO, well worth seeing that can only be seen during the day -- I didn't mean to suggest that these things could be seen after the day trippers leave. Sorry if I created confusion!
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Old Jan 3rd, 2015, 07:50 PM
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Dubrovnik is really overrun in the daytime hours, but most ships leave in the afternoon and it makes a huge difference. And the cruisers don't really venture far (they stay where it is flat, in the shops, and restaurants.) Dubrovnik is magical at night.
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Old Jan 3rd, 2015, 07:51 PM
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In September last year we did a train trip from Budapest to Zagreb, then to Sarajevo then to Mostar , then
Hired a driver to go to Dubrovnik. We wouldn't have missed any of it and the train trip was an experience and a half - plenty of time seeing the countryside in Bosnia. 2 nights in Zagreb, 3 in Sarejevo , 2 in Mostar and 3 in Dubrovnik. We avoided the cruise ship crowds by either going very early or later in the day. Flew from Dubrovnik to London.
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