Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Greece cuts train services - all international trains suspended (or maybe not?)

A few days ago the Greek train operator OSE announced that it will take drastic measures in the coming year to deal with ongoing deficits (just one aspect, of course, of Greece's difficult economic situation).

The full announcement is here, in Greek only. With the help of Google Translate and the Man in Seat 61, the following key points stand out:
- All international routes from Greece will be "temporarily" suspended from 1st January 2011. That means no trains from Thessaloniki to Skopje/Belgrade, Sofia/Bucharest, or Istanbul.
- Some domestic routes will also be suspended, especially in the Peloponnese region.
- Some ticket prices will be increased where they are currently cheaper than bus fares, but discounts will be introduced to encourage early ticket purchase.
- A few connecting bus services will be introduced to link cities to the surviving rail network, for example Ioannina to Kalampaka.

The withdrawal of international services is particularly sad news for independent travellers in the Balkans. Nobody seems to be holding out much hope that the so-called "temporary" nature of the measure will mean any resumption of services in the foreseeable future. It seems the best we can hope for is that bus services improve to take up the slack - especially between Greece and the Republic of Macedonia, where public transport links were poor even before this announcement.

I will post updates here if I receive any further updates about alternative means of transport. In the meantime, please bear in mind that quite a few pages within this website have been made obsolete by this announcement and it will take me some time to update them.

Update 14/01/2010

As mentioned above, the announcement referred to international services being suspended on January 1st. However I'm told that international trains are still running. And the websites of rail operators in neighbouring countries, who would obviously be affected by these measures, do not appear to have any information about changes to international services. It's not clear to me if the suspension has been temporarily deferred or abandoned. If anyone reading this can clarify the issue it would be great if you could post a comment here or contact me.

Update 20/02/2010

It appears that the suspension has indeed taken place - see my updated post.

Monday, December 06, 2010

New edition of the Bradt Guide to Kosovo

Back in 2007, when Bradt Guides published the first edition of their guide to Kosovo, they had little competition. Three years on, with the publication of the second edition, not a lot has changed. As far as I know there is still no other full-length, up to date guidebook to Kosovo in English.

Friday, October 29, 2010

At last, direct flights from Dubrovnik to Athens

There was good news this week for travellers hoping to visit both Greece and Croatia's Adriatic Coast. Croatia Airlines announced that in summer 2011 their flights from Zagreb to Athens will include a stopover in Dubrovnik, allowing a direct connection between southern Croatia and the Greek capital. The flights will operate three times weekly (Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday) starting on May 31.

In test bookings on the Croatian Airlines website, the cheapest return ticket (Dubrovnik-Athens-Dubrovnik) I could find for June 2011 was 2071 kuna, approximately 282 euro. The cheapest one-way ticket from Dubrovnik to Athens was slightly more expensive.

Travellers hoping to make the journey in low season, or unable to adapt their itineraries to fit the days of the week on which these flights operate, will have to continue to choose among the other options outlined on my page about travelling from Croatia to Greece.

Croatia Airlines also announced another summer-only service likely to be of great interest to tourists travelling around southern Europe: a direct flight from Dubrovnik to Venice. The service will operate twice weekly (Thursday and Saturday) starting on June 16. At the time of writing it does not yet appear to be possible to book this flight online.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Turkish Airlines flies from Istanbul to Podgorica

In July 2010 Turkish Airlines began flying from Istanbul's Ataturk Airport to Podgorica in Montenegro. The flight will operate three times weekly all year round (Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday). As well being of interest to local residents, this flight may prove useful to some tourists wishing to travel between the Adriatic coast and Turkey without undertaking the long overland journey. The cheapest one-way fare I could find was €154, while promotional return fares are available for around €190.

This development means that Turkish Airlines now flies to all capital cities in Southeast Europe.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Guidebook updates 2010

It's time for one of my regular roundups of new and updated guidebooks to the Balkan region. There haven't been as many completely new guidebooks this year as in 2009, but several publishers have been active in producing updated versions of their existing books.

I've already mentioned Cicerone's new guide to walking in the Bulgarian mountains in a previous post. Cicerone have also issued a new edition of Rudolf Abraham's Guide to Walking in Croatia. As well as describing treks in the mountains of mainland Croatia, the new version promises additional coverage of walks on the Adriatic islands.

Bradt Guides continue to outdo other publishers with their extensive range of guides to individual Balkan countries, with their Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia reaching their third, fourth, and third editions respectively. Bradt have also published a new guide to the Peloponnese region of Greece.

I mentioned Lonely Planet's updated guide to Romania in an earlier post. Their guides to Slovenia and Greece have also been updated in 2010.

Rough Guides have similarly been busy updating their range. Their mammoth guide to Turkey has reached its seventh edition, while Slovenia and Croatia have also been updated.

Finally, In Your Pocket continue to provide unrivalled coverage of the main cities of the region in the form of free downloadable guides. This year has seen the addition of Podgorica to the IYP range, while Tirana and Pristina are among those cities with updated IYP issues.

Friday, July 16, 2010

New photos of Croatia: Zadar, Rab, and more

I've updated my Croatia galleries with some new photos. You can find photos of Zadar, Ugljan, and Dugi Otok in the "Around Zadar" gallery, while the "Kvarner and Istria" gallery now includes Rab Island and a mixture of old and new photos of Pula.


Thursday, June 03, 2010

Albania Minibus Schedules

Formal bus stations and printed or online timetables are almost unknown in Albania, so getting hold of timetable information can be tricky. The recently created website "Albania Minibus Schedules" is a very useful list of bus and furgon (minibus) routes and timetables. Naturally it is entirely unofficial, but it's very useful for getting a reasonable idea of frequencies and departure points on particular routes. The page is editable, so if you have been in Albania recently you can contribute with up to date information.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

New direct flight from Croatia to Greece

Travelling from Croatia to Greece just got (a little bit) easier. Many travellers have been surprised to find that there are no scheduled direct flights between these two countries. That situation has now changed - at least if you happen to be travelling on the right day of the week and at the right time of year.

Croatia Airlines are now operating a direct flight from Zagreb to Athens three times a week (Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday). The timetable allows same-day connections via Zagreb to and from other major Croatian destinations such as Split and Zagreb. Currently the route is scheduled to operate until October 3rd.

The airline says that return fares will be available starting at €164 - although you will probably need to move fast to snap up a price as low as that any time over the summer months. Don't expect to find cheap one-way fares, budget airline style - as far as I can see a one-way ticket will typically cost just as much as a return. And don't assume that this is the cheapest way to fly from Croatia to Greece - it may work out cheaper to change planes somewhere else, such as Budapest.

More details from Croatia Airlines

More about travelling from Croatia to Greece

Monday, May 31, 2010

Lonely Planet updates Romania ... but not Moldova

Lonely Planet this month published the fifth edition of their guide to Romania. Previous editions have distinguished themselves from competing guides by including a chapter about the Republic of Moldova, but the newest version covers only Romania. If you are planning to visit Moldova as a side trip you can purchase and download the relevant chapter of LP's Eastern Europe guide from their online shop. Or take a look at LP author Leif Pettersen's online guide, which still covers both countries.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Easyjet flies from Switzerland to Kosovo

Easyjet has announced that it will link Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, with two Swiss cities starting in June. Flights from Geneva will operate on Wednesday and Saturday while flights from Basle will leave on Thursday and Saturday. Fares start at 30 euro one way, but you may need to move fast if you want to snap up a flight at that price - especially if you are looking for a Saturday flight in summer.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The mountains of Bulgaria: a new hiking guide

Keen hikers hoping to explore Bulgaria's mountain ranges may be interested in a new guidebook that has just been published by Cicerone. "Walking in Bulgaria's National Parks" describes 12 treks in the Pirin, Rila, and Central Balkan national parks, with detailed information about the plant and animal life likely to be encountered along the way.

Julian Perry, the book's author, also maintains a blog about Hiking in Bulgaria, where he has recently been keeping readers up to date on the exceptionally icy weather that has gripped the region.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

A rare Macedonian mention

The Republic of Macedonia rarely appears in the travel pages of English-language newspapers, so it was nice to see a full-scale article about Lake Ohrid in last Saturday's Guardian. The writer of "A dive into Macedonia's past" recalls childhood visits to her grandmother (who came from Ohrid), enjoys a swim in the 26C water of the lake, and hires a boat to visit the springs at Sveti Naum.

Ohrid Quay
View of Ohrid townNational Museum, Ohrid