This is the final blog for our epic adventure through the Balkans, and I wanted to focus it on lessons learned on the road during the Balkans road-trip. Starting in Ljubljana and ending in Zagreb, we probably drove over 1,500 miles, crossed six countries (five new countries for Brendan and four for me), had two separate cars due to a flat tire, dealt with parking, livestock, crazy drivers with death wishes, police stops and speed traps – pretty much everything you can think of. Here is a recap of lessons and #travelhacks for others planning a Balkans road-trip adventure. Driving in middle of road expected on smaller roads. One of the characteristics of drivers in this region is a a relaxed interpretation of road rules. On highways, lanes are adhered to, but not on country and mountain roads. You will definitely see oncoming traffic driving in the middle of a small 2 lane road, and they will eventually get over as you pass them. This can become dangerous when taking sharp turns on some of the mountainous roads, so honking as you go around a tight turn isn’t the worst idea on your Balkan road-trip. Spare bill handy in Bosnia….
After Plitvice Lakes, we were on our way to our final destination on our epic Balkans road trip – Zagreb, the capital, and largest, city of Croatia. It was an easy 2 hour drive to the Hotel Panorama, where our Sixt rental car drop off location was. We had to circle a few times to figure out the drop off point. Dropping the car off was no problem – there was no damages assessed and it appeared that we were off the hook for having to pay anything for the flat tire debacle (unfortunately, a few days after getting back to Denver a bill for $250 showed up that we are fighting). Ubers were readily available in Zagreb, so we took one to get the few miles to our hotel, Hilton Canopy. It’s a new brand concept Hilton has recently introduced to appeal to the high-end hipster crowd. We felt at home right away in the inviting space. I had used Hilton points for our one night here in Zagreb, so this was a freebie. We got up to the room and continued to be impressed. There were cool little premium extras waiting for us too – like socks that….
After a great stay in Sarajevo (easily in the top 3 of our favorite places in the Balkans), we had a packed day going to Plitvice Lakes National Park and then on to Zagreb. If you recall, we tried to get to Plitvice Lakes on the day we crossed the border from Slovenia to Croatia and got a flat tire. This was take two. We got up very early to be out the door around 0730. It would take about 5 hours to drive to Plitvice Lakes from Sarajevo, as we first had to drive north west in to Croatia, then pretty much straight north from Plitvice Lakes to Zagreb. Our original plan was simply to hypotenuse it. The scenery along the way was really lovely, and the drive was perfectly smooth despite encountering several more police checkpoints and a ton of traffic police radar traps. We learned first hand to flash your lights to oncoming traffic if the police were nearby – seemingly its a universal human inclination to help one another avoid traffic cops! Towards mid-morning we stopped at a gas station for coffee and a bathroom break, encountering clouds of indoor smoke as we did so. Soon….
After our favorite dinner on our trip at Klopa, second only to Hisa Franko, we were looking forward to exploring foodie Sarajevo for a second night. But, first we still hadn’t had lunch. So we headed over to the burek place that Neno recommended and tried pumpkin burek and meat burek. It was much lighter than the one we had in Ljubljana, and it came with a light yoghurt sauce that was quite refreshing. Let round 2 of foodie Sarajevo begin at Buregžinica Bosna. We then walked around the marketplace and spent some time listening to the bronze workers in the famous bronze district. We also found Sarajevo to be a hot-bed for artists – there were five art galleries that caught our eye, after some browsing, we identified two main places we wanted to come back to. There was one that painted abstract Bosnian houses, another that painted Sarajevan scenes on reclaimed lumber, and the third was a tiny gallery of mixed watercolor and oil scenes of the countryside. Considering we still wanted to work up an appetite for another foodie Sarajevo dinner after the burek, we decided to walk up to the nearest fort. On the way, we….
After a great first night in this diamond in the rough of a city, we were feeling the East meets West vibe woven throughout the history of Sarajevo. Unfortunately, we did not get great sleep because as mentioned previously, no hotels in the region seem to have air conditioning, and you either have to open the windows to get a breeze but suffer noise (and rain), or keep the windows closed and be hot. The buffet breakfast at Hotel Sana was good, but nothing near the spread at Hotel Vardar. We had a fairly early start as far as early starts go for us (0900) so that we could meet up with a free walking tour at 1030 in front of the National Theater. There are many free walking tours on offer in Sarajevo, so just look through Trip Advisor to find the one that meets your schedule and your choice of topic. We opted for the general overview “East meets West” tour through Neno and Friends, although we were seriously considering the “War scars and new times” walking tour at 1545 with the same company. Ultimately we wanted to get out early, especially with the anticipation of poor weather….