Fast Facts: The Balkans

WHAT WE DID:

  • Traveled for 23 days around four Balkan countries.
  • Stayed primarily in rooms (self-contained unit) booked through AirBnB, with the exception of a 3-night guesthouse in Plitvicka Jereza, Croatia.
  • Our basic itinerary:
    • Transit – train (Mav-Start) from Budapest to Belgrade, Serbia
    • Belgrade (3 nights)
    • Transit – minivan (GEA Tours) from Belgrade to Sarajevo, Bosnia
    • Sarajevo (4 nights)
    • Transit – bus (Eurolines) from Sarajevo to Split, Croatia
    • Split (3 nights)
    • Transit – 4-day car rental to travel to Plitvice Lakes National Park
    • Plitvice Lakes (3 nights)
    • Transit – returned car to Split; overnight in Split
    • Transit – bus (Clissa) from Split to Zagreb
    • Zagreb (2 nights)
    • Transit – bus (Flixbus) from Zagreb to Ljubljana, Slovenia
    • Ljubljana (2 nights)
    • Transit – 5-day car rental to travel to Triglav National Park (Bovec)
    • Bovec (4 nights)
    • Transit – returned car to Ljubljana; overnight in Ljubljana

 

WHAT WE LIKED:

  • We were enamored with pretty much everything we saw in Slovenia. If we ever made an international move, it would easily make our short list of highly desirable places.
  • While we met fantastic, friendly people all across the Balkan Peninsula, we felt that the people we encountered in Sarajevo were exceptionally warm and welcoming, and everyone seemed to go out of their way to help us or offer advice.
  • Although it was more expensive, we enjoyed the freedom of having a rental car in both Croatia and Slovenia.

 

WHAT WE’D CHANGE:

  • Although it was a convenient bus ride from Sarajevo (and we didn’t think we had time to head all the way south to Dubrovnik), we probably wouldn’t have chosen Split as our hub for visiting the Dalmatian Coast. Being a bustling port city, the historic town was overrun with tourists pouring off cruise ships and ferries. Zadar was much more laid-back, suggesting one of the smaller towns would have been a better fit for us.
  • We would have stayed in Bosnia & Herzegovina longer. The rural countryside was just gorgeous, and we were kind of entranced as we gazed out the windows of our comfortable coach busses at the pastoral landscapes. While some areas are still not entirely safe for exploring (there are still numerous unexploded ordinances and land mines from the war), we really hope to return some day and see more of the picturesque country.

 

WHAT WE LEARNED:

  • Food is super expensive in Plitvice Lakes National Park. There are only a few restaurants, all of which are fairly pricey. We rented an in-law apartment in someone’s house (there are lots of them around the area) so that we’d have a kitchen. We brought food that we had purchased in Split, and we were glad we did – the supermarket prices were about 2–3 times higher than we paid in the city (produce was one comparable exception). If you’re staying in/around Plitvicka Jezera for a few days, definitely consider a room with cooking capabilities, as well as bringing some key staples with you.
  • Get to Plitvice Lakes NP early in the a.m. for a few hours of solitude. We visited at the beginning of September, right after the transition from peak summer to shoulder season, which meant: (1) still a pretty high number of other tourists, (2) reduced ticket prices, and (3) slightly shorter park hours (8 a.m. to 6 p.m. instead of 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.). We arrived just before 7:30 a.m. both mornings and were allowed to enter the park. I’m not sure if they are normally lenient with the hours, or if it’s just because it was the first week after the hours changed, but it was great. There were only a handful of other people, and the only sound was the rushing waterfalls. The park stayed quiet until about 10 a.m., when it seemed the tour bus groups started arriving. The afternoons were significantly less peaceful and enjoyable than the mornings.
  • If you are interested in casual photography at Plitvice Lakes, here’s what we learned during our early September visit (as the park opens after sunrise): Our first morning in the park we started at entrance 2 (the upper lakes), while our second morning began at entrance 1 (the canyon). Starting at the upper lakes, the sun had already illuminated the various falls. The light was pretty, but if you are looking for those nice, blurred-water photos, there’s too much light to get them. Of course, these falls were partially shaded by about 4:30 p.m. Starting at entrance 1, the canyon was almost completely shaded at 8.m. Thus, the water was dark, and lacking the sparkling, sun-kissed turquoise shade, but the falls on this side of the park were fabulous for photographing. Not to mention, it’s far less crowded here in the a.m. than in the afternoon (the ‘big falls’ at the canyon seem to be the most popular attraction). If you make a full circuit of the park and are keen to take some photos, we’d suggest starting at entrance 1, shooting some of the falls, then heading to the upper lakes, and finally returning to entrance 1 in the afternoon to photograph the lakes. Having said all that, we now plan to purchase a good neutral-density filter for the camera, so that we’ll be able to shoot waterfalls with blurred water in any level of light.
  • Slovenia has a shockingly low smoking rate (~20%) relative to its nicotine-loving neighbors (~40% each). After being all but suffocated by smoke-filled restaurants and shops in Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina, we were thrilled to breathe the fresh, Slovenian air.

 

WEIGHTS & MEASURES:

AVERAGE PETROL COST:

Country Cost per liter
(local currency)
Cost per liter
(USD)
Serbia 113 dinar $1.03
Bosnia & Herzegovina 1.86 KM $1.05
Croatia  9.17 HRK $1.37
Slovenia 1.20 € $1.06

AVERAGE EXCHANGE RATE:

Country $1 USD equivalent
Serbia 110 dinar
Bosnia & Herzegovina 1.77 convertible mark (KM)
Croatia 6.7 kuna (HRK)
Slovenia 1.13 Euro (€)

 

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