I did not leave the Balkans eagerly. I miss my friends, my cats, my woodworking, and a few amenities such as clean clothes every day and cotton underwear, but I could start again and do the whole trip over. When I get home, I will read my blog.
One thought sustained us as we prepared to leave Cetinje: After a drought of more than three weeks, this night we would have milk. Fresh. Pasteurized. Homogenized. Cold. Milk.
We spent the 32-km ride to Podgorica standing in the front aisle of the bus. Views across the mountains were spectacular, but we had to bend over to see. As we entered Podgorica, we saw one last symbolic horse and wagon. It will be a while before we see another.
Then poof, we were in Vienna. Seat belts. Fire Codes. The 21st century. When we were here in 2008, we visited Hunterwasser’s architectural whimsy and the Vienna Woods. Nothing else demanded our attention, so this time we just found dinner, some outstanding gelato, and Fresh. Pasteurized. Homogenized. Milk.
Now as we fly to the US, some observations:
On this trip, I have slept in about 40 inexpensive beds. All were immaculately clean. Almost none had the sheet(s) tucked in.
Only three were uncomfortable: Thessaloniki, Kotor and Vienna. In each case, it was a matter of trying too hard with squishy soft stuff instead on an ordinary mattress.
It will be a while before I eat another piece of bread with butter and jelly. Continental breakfast sucks. I will, however, sorely miss Shopska Salad–tomato, cucumber, onion, olives and a creamy, mild cheese.
We had to be careful when discussing foods with the locals. When someone said, “This is a traditional dish made only here. You won’t find it anywhere else in the world, not even in other parts of our country,” we didn’t say we’d already had the same dish half a dozen places already.
Ethnic pride and identity were evident everywhere we went and irrespective of arbitrary borders imposed by governments. Some people, including border agents, seemed to just ignore the border. We are lacking several stamps in our passports.
Imagine traveling where there are no postcards for sale. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the lack of tourist infrastructure sometimes made getting around easier. Buses may run at odd times from odd places, or there may not even be a bus, but just say where you want to go and the locals will make sure you get there.
Our monetary goal was $100/day for the two of us on location. In other words, all expenses from landing in Athens to departing Vienna, not including airfare or expenses in the US.
The entire trip was cash from ATM’s. The credit card never left the money belt. I have a separate travel account, so calculation is easy. $8,164 over 80 days is $102 per day.
Accommodations averaged very close to €30 ($40) per night. Most were €30, a few under, a few over. All but a few were private room with bath: some had kitchen or kitchen privileges. Most of the time, it would have been possible to go cheaper, but we didn’t feel the need to. I never negotiated a price.
The hostel room in Vienna was by far the most expensive at €50 and the bathroom was down the hall. I could have avoided this overnight layover, but that would have meant a very early departure coupled with the time change. At our age, we don’t handle 30-hour days very well.
Budgeting food was seldom an issue, though the Euro exchange rate really sucked. The worst part for me was when we needed to share entrees and Roger’s tastes are more limited than mine. The best part was that most of the time we had excellent meals in surroundings more elegant than we ever have at home.
Greece was by far the most expensive country, and we would consider it expensive even were we not comparing it with the other countries on this trip. In particular, transportation in Greece was a killer. It was not unusual to spend €30-40 ($40-55) on a pair of bus tickets, and then there was the €112 ($150) queasy ferry ride from Santorini to Crete. That put a big dent in our $100 budget. Fortunately, the other countries smoothed it out.
My favorite moment: approaching the village of Limar in Albania. I cried with joy. It had been a longtime goal to hike to an isolated village like this, and somehow my first glimpse of Limar fit the mental image I had carried for years.
According to Roger’s GPS records, we hiked more than 200 miles on this trip and ascended more than 30,000 feet, mostly with full pack. This doesn’t count the wandering around that wasn’t actual hiking. Neither of us suffered from this level of activity. My mild knee twist when I fell on the Valbona pass resolved quickly.
Our travels for the year are just beginning–several trips within the US are on the calendar, including backpacking with family in Wyoming. My woodworking is getting terribly behind schedule.
We have not begun to contemplate our next foreign trip, which we assume will be next spring or fall. One day, one of us will say, “How about …?” The other will say, “Yeah. That sounds good.” That’s how our adventures begin.