Saturday, December 12, 2009

New direct train from Sarajevo to Belgrade

Starting tomorrow (December 13, 2009), Sarajevo and Belgrade will be connected by a direct train service for the first time in almost two decades. The new service will run every day all year round, leaving Sarejevo at 11:35 and arriving at 20:18. In the reverse direction departure from Belgrade is at 17:35, arriving in Sarajevo at 20:18.

Until now travel by rail between these two cities has required an awkward change of trains in Croatia or northern Bosnia, so this development makes train travel a more appealing option. The trains still have to follow a rather indirect route through Croatia, and with a scheduled journey time of about 9 hours they will take longer than most buses, which typically take around 8 hours. However there is still only one bus (operated by Lasta) from Sarajevo's central bus station, so some travellers may find the train a more attractive option than a bus from the out-of-town Lukavica bus station.

The train fare (in either direction) is reportedly about 17 euro one way, 31 euro return.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Updated Bradt Guide to Macedonia

The third edition of the Bradt Guide to Macedonia has recently been published. Like the first two editions the updated guide was written by Thammy Evans, and it remains the only English-language guidebook dedicated entirely to the Republic of Macedonia. This edition is about 50 pages longer than its predecessor, and the publishers say that it includes "new material on battlefields and historical figures, as well as updated information on outdoor pursuits, folk festivals, wine, archaeology – and, of course, Macedonia's fast-improving hotels, restaurants and bars".

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Other people's journeys: Balkan travelogues 2009

Apart from a short trip to Romania I haven't had the chance to visit the Balkans this year, so I've been travelling vicariously by reading other people's online travelogues. In this post I list a selection of trip reports that may prove useful or interesting to readers planning a trip to the region. All of them date from 2009 or the second half of 2008 so the information should be up to date.

Most of the travelogues I've come across are about multi-country trips through Southeast Europe. A good example is "Traveling the Balkans", an account of a trip through Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, and Greece in May 2009. The site features detailed descriptions of some of the trickier cross-border transport connections in the region, including a bus from Venice to Ljubljana and a taxi-plus-minibus combination from Bar to Tirana. The author's overall conclusion: "I recommend this trip to anyone who has not spent time in this seriously awesome region".

The author of "Balkans2009's Great Adventure" reaches a similar conclusion: "All in all our trip to the Balkans was tremendously fun. We saw amazing sites, ate great food, and met some wonderful people. We'd strongly urge anyone who has a lust for off-the-beaten-path travel to consider visiting this part of the world". Craig and Efren also travelled by public transport, starting in Sarajevo and taking in the Croatian and Montenegrin coasts. They then headed further off the beaten path, flying from Tivat to Pristina in a plane with a total of just four passengers, exploring Pristina, Gjakova, and Prizren, before heading to Macedonia and finally Athens.

If you're thinking of taking a car to the Western Balkans, check out "Chokk's Road Trip", which describes a drive from Belgium to Albania and back again, with stops in Bosnia, Croatia, and Montenegro along the way. As well as descriptions of the sights and sounds of the journey, the blog includes descriptions of driving conditions on the E65 (Adriatic Highway), the Mostar-Metkovic road, and two border crossings between Albania and Montenegro.

"Travelvice" blogger Craig Heimburger chose a much slower approach to travelling in Southeast Europe in late 2008, spending about two months in Romania and a month in Bulgaria. If you are interested in the possibilities of CouchSurfing in the region this blog should be of interest, as Craig managed to rack up more than 100 consecutive nights staying in this form of accommodation (at the cost of what sounds like a frightening amount of time spent at a computer chasing up invitations). This method of travel brought him to a variety of places rarely visited by foreign tourists. To be honest, I suspect some of these place are rarely visited for a very good reason. Much as I love both countries, I can see how a tour of grey, run-down provincial towns in the depths of winter might not leave a very good impression, so I wasn't too suprised that Craig seemed generally underwhelmed by both countries.

Also travelling through Southeast Europe on a low budget was Wade at "Vagabond Journey", who visited Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia. He seems to have had less luck than Travelvice in finding Couchsurfing hosts, and concludes that "Europe is expensive to travel in winter". In line with the site's overall theme of Budget Travel, several posts list the costs of basics such as bread, water, and cheese.

After all those multi-country itineraries, I'd like to mention two blogs that stick (mainly) to one country:

"Nothing Against Serbia" is the blog of a Swiss architect married to a Serbian. As well as many travel tips drawn from the writer's travels around Serbia, the blog features photos and descriptions of many aspects of Serbian architecture and design.

Finally, ""Ellis and Jodie's Bulgarian Adventure is a blog by a couple who moved to Sofia from Israel in January 2009, covering the highs and lows of adapting to life in a new country - including the challenges of learning Bulgarian and the unpredictable results of using GPS to navigate Bulgaria's road network.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Belgrade and Thessaloniki, party cities

Lonely Planet have listed two Balkan cities among the world's top ten party cities in their new book "1000 ultimate experiences".

One of their selections is quite predictable: Belgrade regularly features in lists of this type, thanks to its "varied nightlife, ranging from eclectic watering holes for those in the know, to the busy restaurants and bars of the Skadarlija district and the summer clubs in barges on the Sava and Danube Rivers".

The inclusion of Thessaloniki is perhaps more surprising. According to Lonely Planet, Greece's second city offers "great nightlife ... from arty cafes to Latin bars to discos pumping out house music to salacious bouzoukia (clubs featuring twangy, Eastern-flavored Greek folk-pop)".

Read the full list

Friday, November 06, 2009

An end in sight for the "Kosovo passport stamp issue"?

The Serbian Interior Minister has apparently indicated that Serbia intends to make life easier for foreigners entering the country via Kosovo, who until now have been regarded as illegal entrants (at least in theory) because their passports do not contain an entry stamp from a recognised Serbian border crossing. Unfortunately no date is given for the change, which would remove a minor but niggling worry that concerns many travellers planning a trip around the Balkans.

Full article from Balkan Insight:
Serbia to ease travel for foreigners coming from Kosovo

Saturday, August 15, 2009

What's new in Lonely Planet's "Western Balkans"?

Judging by the clicks through to Amazon from the links on this site, Lonely Planet's "Western Balkans" is the single most popular guidebook among readers of Balkanology. I mentioned the imminent publication of a second edition back in March, but I had few details at that stage. Now that I have my own copy, I thought some readers might be interested in a comparison with the first edition.

The most obvious change is that the chapter on Slovenia has been quietly dropped, presumably for not being Balkan enough. Along with an increase of 44 pages in the total size of the book, this has allowed quite a lot of extra material to be included in the individual country chapters, which have been completely rewritten. The following countries are now covered: Albania (53 pages), Bosnia (68), Croatia (92), Kosovo (12), Macedonia (52), Montenegro (40), and Serbia (51). There are also more than 100 pages of general material about the region as a whole.

I was pleased to find that much of the extra space has been used to write about less well-known regions. Eastern Bosnia, for example, was ignored in the first guide but now gets four pages, including details of accommodation and transport (details notably lacking in the rather confused coverage of this region in the Bradt guide to Bosnia). Theth (Albania), Biogradska Gora (Montenegro), and Krushevo (Macedonia) are similar examples of destinations that have been added in the new edition.

It's impossible to thoroughly judge a guidebook without using it on the ground, which I haven't yet had the chance to do. But leafing through the new edition of Western Balkans certainly prompted me to daydream about another visit to the region, taking in places I haven't yet seen - which has to be a good thing.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Escape from British tourists in the Balkans

The Independent recently published a list of the "Ten best destinations to escape the British crowds this summer". Not necessarily free of tourist crowds in general, it seems - just British crowds. Destinations in Southeast Europe make up half the list: Sarajevo, Montenegro, Slovenia, the Romanian Black Sea coast, and (rather surprisingly) Croatia. Nice to see getting a mention on the Sarajevo page, even if they didn't quite get the spelling right.

Balkan destinations have also popped up in several of the Independent's other "Ten best" features. Dubrovnik gets a mention as one of the "Ten best city beach breaks". Croatian's Motovun Film Festival features as one of the "Best alternative festivals" (Motovun is in Istria, not Central Croatia as stated in the article). And Romania is one of the "Best Harry Potter landmarks". Something to do with dragons, apparently.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

From Skopje to the sea by train

The "Balkan Travellers" website reports that two summer-only train services Skopje to the seaside beging operating this week. A daily overnight service from Skopje to Bar on Montenegro's Adriatic coast will run until 31 August, while a train to Varna on Bulgaria's Black Sea will run on Saturdays only until 4 September. For those of you puzzling over rail maps of Southeast Europe: both trains travel via Niš in Serbia.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Photos of Székely Land (Romania)

Last month I had the chance to spend a week in a part of Romania that I hadn't previously visited, the Székely Land. This part of Transylvania is much less well known to foreign tourists than the Saxon lands - the only travellers I saw were from Hungary. Although the Székely cities don't have the mediaeval architecture that makes Sibiu and Sighişoara so appealing, the countryside is well worth exploring. In contrast to the sad decline in the number of German speakers living in Transylvania, the Hungarian speakers of the Székely Land are very much still around, and this gives the area a slightly different atmosphere to the rest of Romania.

Photos from my trip can now be seen in the Székely Land Gallery.

Monday, March 02, 2009

New and updated guidebooks: Montenegro, Albania, and more

Despite recurring reports of the death of the print guidebook, spring 2009 has seen plenty of activity among publishers of guides to the Balkan Region. Some of the books listed below are already in the shops, others are due to be published in the next few months and are available for pre-order. I haven't yet got my hands on any of them, so the following listings are not necessarily recommendations.


Travellers to Montenegro will soon be spoilt for choice as the Adriatic country moves further towards mainstream destination status. Two brand new guidebooks make their debuts in April 2009, Rough Guides and Lonely Planet shadowing each other as closely as ever: their guides have identical official publication dates. In keeping with the usual pattern, the Rough Guide has more pages than its LP competitor. Rough Guide author Norm Longley has also been responsible for the excellent Romania and Slovenia guides. There are now at least five English language guidebooks dedicated entirely to this small country (for the full list see the Montenegro Books page).


Albania trails some distance behind Montenegro when it comes to being perceived as a "normal" tourist destination, but it is certainly moving in that direction. Until recently the successive and ever-improving editions of the Bradt guide had the field to themselves (in the absence of an update to the 2001 Blue Guide, still worth referring to for its incomparable level of detail). Now Thomas Cook is publishing "Travellers Albania". The same publisher's CitySpots series already covers Tirana, and the new guide extends to the whole country. See the Albania Books page for the full list of guidebooks.

Western Balkans

The new guides to Albania and Montenegro will be of interest to travellers concentrating on a single country, but are probably too bulky for the many people who visit these countries as part of a longer trip. Those travellers will no doubt be interested in the second edition of Lonely Planet's Western Balkans guide, which will hopefully take account of the many changes in the region since the first edition appeared three years ago. Details are still sparse - all I know right now is that it is just 12 pages longer than the first edition. Presumably the same countries are covered - I wonder if Kosovo, barely touched on in the original edition, will get its own section?

Please see this later post for an update on the Western Balkans guide.

Other updates

The roster is completed by two other updates from Lonely Planet: their guide to Croatia has moved on to its fifth edition in a relatively short space of time, while the venerable Turkey guide is on edition number eleven.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Rare snow in Dalmatia

Many parts of the Balkans have already experienced some particularly harsh weather this winter, but this week has brought something exceptional: snow on Croatia's Adriatic Coast. News reports say that the residents (especially children) of Sibenik, Split and Dubrovnik are enjoying the novelty - when they aren't attending hospital as a result of slips and slides on the unfamiliar treacherous surface. Dubrovnik Airport is apparently closed.

Read more here and enjoy some evocative photos of Zadar in this gallery.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Flights from Liverpool to Dubrovnik ... and more

Following its announcement of a new route from London Gatwick to Dubrovnik last month, budget airline Easyjet yesterday launched another connection from England to the southern Croatian airport. Flights from Liverpool to Dubrovnik will operate three times weekly (Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday) from early June.

It seems that the Dalmatian coast will be busy with Easyjet customers in summer 2009. As well as the new UK routes, the airline will fly to Dubrovnik three times weekly from Berlin and twice weekly from Geneva.

Easyjet is also making it easier to reach Greece from the English regions: over the summer they will fly twice weekly from both Bristol and Manchester to Corfu, and from Manchester to Athens.