Category Archives for "Europe"

Travelogue: Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Hey, friends! Since I’m asking you to let me help with your independent travel, I think it’s important to share some of my own travel stories with you. I want you to understand how I see the world and the kinds of experiences I focus on when planning trips! I’m currently traveling through London and Norway with my wonderful mother, and I’ll share some of the stories from this trip a bit later.

Today I want to share a journal entry I came across from my six-week solo trip driving through Central and Eastern Europe in 2015. I know the writing isn’t perfect, but it was my real and raw experience that day.  I’ve only done minor edits for grammar and understanding. 🙂

June 27, 2015 – Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina

sarajevo-fountain-imageWell, day two in Sarajevo started with a bit of a hiccup. As I went to get in the shower, I realized my dirty clothes bag was missing. I went out and checked the trunk, but sure enough, I left it in Jajce. In times past this would have totally ruined my day and sent me into a panic, but I called and emailed the hostel and they said they would mail them to my hostel here. Today is Saturday and they won’t arrive until Tuesday or Wednesday. I’m really okay with this!

It’s actually good for me to be forced to slow down and really just BE in a place. I spent three nights in Plitvice National Park, but everything else has only been a night or two in the same place. While I like to be on the move and have things to do, but it will be good to just slow down. This may be hard for me so it might be just what I need.

Walking Tour of the City

This morning after straightening out the dirty laundry (ha!), I went on a walking tour of the city. What an awesome experience on so many levels! I learned a lot about the history, people, and culture. Our first stop, after a brief intro to the city and country, was the Eternal Flame. This was created in 1945 or 1946 as a monument of gratitude to the people (Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks) who liberated the city from the Nazis. 

The only time the flame has been out was during the siege (1992 – 1996), which ironically was fighting among the same three groups. You can still see where the bullets and shells damaged the monument. The people chose to leave them as a reminder of what good can come from working together and the bad from fighting amongst ourselves.

Remnants of the 90’s Siege

sarajevo-rose-imageOur next stop was the open-air market. After not being hit with a single shell for two years, in 1994 a shell hit the market killing 67 and wounding more than 100 others. It was the largest massacre during the siege. They have left the small crater where the shell landed and the back wall of the market is now a memorial with the names of all 67 who died that day – Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs, and Catholic Croats. I love that they preserved and remember what happened instead of just glossing over the troubles. 

From there we moved to the Cathedral of Jesus’ Sacred Heart and a spot where another shell killed someone. The hole has been filled with a red material and the damage to the building was left in remembrance of those who died. The red filled mortal holes are called Sarajevo Roses and you can see them all over the city. They’re used to mark a place where one of the shells took a life. 

WWI Starts in Sarajevo

Next we visited the place on the Latin Bridge where Franz Ferdinand’s car drove and had to turn around, giving one the assassins the perfect opportunity to kill him and his pregnant wife Sofia. Tomorrow is 101 years since the assassination. 

The rest of the tour was the covered market, Bey’s Mosque, the Old Synagogue, the city park with the giant chess board, and the oldest hostel in the city (now offices). I found the parts about the siege most interesting because I remember hearing about it on TV when I was young. 

Parallel Lives

Park in Sarajevo

What I found most striking was listening to our guide talk about her experience as a Bosnian. The jokes about the people living in Sarajevo being missed (by snipers) and how they were very athletic because they all ran everywhere in hopes of avoiding sniper fire. The stories of the horrible UN rations of rice that had to be boiled for five hours to be edible and the bright pink meat gelatin are a stark contrast to the first world problems and Junior High drama that was my own life during the same time. 

She talked about how the unemployment rate is currently about 50% and even higher (65%) for those under 35. About how they sit in cafes and drink coffee for 1 mark (50 cents US) comparing who has the crappiest life, like a one-upper game. She said overall life is okay, and people are pretty happy just to have the simple things because they have known so much worse.

This got me thinking about the sliver I had in Bled (I got a painful piece of wood stuck in my finger that took up a ridiculous amount of head space until I got it out) and how we spend so much time and mental energy on things that really don’t matter and miss the joys of simply being alive!

Coffee and a conversation with people you love or just met, fresh fruit on a summer morning, being able to walk the streets of a new city, are things many of us take for granted. These are the things Sarajevo is meant to teach me. That’s why I’m here. I have much to learn from this city and its people. (Damn, reading that now makes me all choked up – this was only the beginning of what this beautiful city would send home with me…)

sarajevo-bosnian-coffee-image

Enjoying the Sarajevo of Today

I spent the afternoon eating Čevapi, walking along Marshal Tito street, hiked the road to the Olympic Stadium (the 1984 Olympics were in Sarajevo), had an espresso, read my book, met some other travelers from Germany and Ireland over a beer, and enjoyed a simple backpacker dinner with funky roast chicken puffy chips before a nice chat with my hubby. 

When I’m in the bigger cities, I find myself running through the list of things to see. Again, I have much to learn from the Bosnian way and pleasure in the simplicity of life. I will do my best to just relax and let things flow more easily. The best part is that I have the time. There’s no reason to rush! 

Learning to Slow Down

The next place I want to see is Budapest, so maybe I can learn to chill and I’ll head straight there and spend a week rather than a few days in many of the places along the way. I think part of the mentality for me is, “I’ve come all this way, I should see as much as I can!” rather than slowing down and really enjoying the place, not rushing through it.

Appreciating the simple things and embracing more of the “slow travel” idea is where I’m going to focus for the rest of this trip. 

Budget Breakdown:

I was on a super tight budget for this trip, so I kept track of all my expenses every day and logged them at the end of my journal entries. Seems relevant. 🙂

$15 hostel, 4 mk tour, 4 mk grapes, 5 mk lunch, 20 mk gifts, 2 mk coffee, 3 mk beer, 1 mk bread, 3 mk beer & chips (Total: $35 USD and one serious fucking education)  

Reflections

In hindsight, I can see how much this single day changed my life. If not for a bag of misplaced dirty laundry, my experience in Sarajevo would have been much shorter and probably just the “highlight reel” of sights. Instead I spent a full week (Bosnian post isn’t the speediest) and fell completely in love with the city. I was able to see and feel the daily flow of life, make friends, and really soak in all it has to offer. I even returned that September and stayed for a full month!

Last fall, I went back for a visit and took a friend along so I could share the magic of this place. It’s become such a huge part of my consciousness and changed my worldview in ways that are difficult to put into words.

I always say, “Sarajevo is where I go when I need to remember how to live.”

Your Turn

Have you had any experiences that blow your mind wide open like this? How did you process that huge shift in awareness? How has it changed the way you see and interact with the world now?

 

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How to Decide Where to Travel in Europe

Before you can start planning any type of travel, you have to answer the hardest question of all. Where do you want to go? If you’re anything like me, you have a long list of places calling you to explore! When I’m trying to decide where to go next, it’s usually a combination of three things: 

  • how much I have to spend
  • what types of things I want to see or do
  • how much time I have to make it all happen.

This one is a long post and full of info, so stick with me. 🙂 

Europe is what I know best, and there are so many iconic places we’ve grown up hearing about and seeing in the media (for my US-based readers) – textbooks to movies and everything in between! If you’re trying to decide where to travel in Europe, it can be tempting to try and see it all, or so much that you run yourself ragged on what you would like to be a semi-relaxing vacation. You’re not wrong, but there’s something to be said for slowing down a bit. Your best memories usually aren’t from your list of planned activities, it’s from the unexpected, surprise moments of awesomeness you’ll encounter when you give yourself some extra time in each place.

My goal is to help you see and enjoy as many international destinations as possible–part of that process is about taking some of the stress out of planning your travel. In this post, we’re going to take some of the stress out of choosing a European destination. 

Narrowing Down Your Options

 

When I’m ready to start planning my next trip, I get out my ever-growing list of destinations and pick my top five. Even narrowing it down to five is tough so I ask myself, “If I only get to take one more trip in this lifetime, where would I most regret not seeing?” Morbid? Maybe, but it helps me put things into perspective. 

Last summer my husband and I both did this exercise when we were trying to decide where in Europe to visit next. We made our lists and both had our top choices as Denmark and the Netherlands. That time was easy, but it’s not always that simple. Sometimes it’s the right confluence of events that has you choosing somewhere that’s a little further down the list, and it just might be magic…

Be Open to the Opportunities

In 2017 we were already planning to visit Ireland with friends who were getting married there. Side note: We had SO much fun! If you get a chance to travel with a group of friends, do it! Anyway, we had the ability to add a couple of extra weeks to our trip and Europe was the obvious choice since we would be there anyway. 

Our budgets were limited so we needed to go somewhere that our dollars would stretch. That knocked places like Denmark and the Netherlands out of the running for this particular adventure. We decided on Romania because we both had been wanting to visit certain areas and, through our research, discovered that it’s super affordable. It hadn’t made it to the top of the list yet (it should have been higher up, I know that now!), but this was the perfect opportunity to make it happen!

Budget Categories

In Europe, it’s pretty easy to stay in the same budget range and see a number of different places because they’re usually clustered together. It tends to be this way because of their shared history, economic systems, infrastructure, etc. The borders of today weren’t always that way so there’s some overlap from country to country. I’m going to provide a break down of the different countries based on how much you can expect to spend. I hope this will make some of the harder decisions a little easier! 

Here are the budget ranges per person:

Budget Travel: Less than $50 per day

Won’t Break the Bank: Between $50 and $100 per day

Bring Your Wallet!: $100+ per day

These categories are based on:

  • simple, but comfortable accommodations ( B&B style or private rooms in a hostel )
  • using public transportation
  • eating only one meal out per day (two in super cheap places) and the rest is street food or grocery store. 
  • visiting one or two paid attractions per day, so you have more time to wander and explore.

Pro Tip: If you like to camp, you can turn nearly any European country into a Budget Travel destination! I love it, but I get that it’s not for everyone. 🙂

List of Budget Travel Destinations

Here’s the list of European countries categorized by budget. I didn’t want to write you a novel about each, so I’ve only left comments on places I’ve visited or have done a fair amount of research about. I left off commentary on the major places most people visit, just because there’s SO much to see and, if they’re on your list, you probably already have some specific places in mind. 

Good to Know: I’ve based these on High Season prices (June – August), when the most tourists are visiting. Some of the places that are currently in the “Won’t Break the Bank” zone, may drop into the Budget Travel grouping during other parts of the year. 

Most Affordable European Travel Destinations 

Stunning view of Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina

I’ve listed these in alphabetical order, just to keep things simple for you. There are some I super love, so I have to put my pitch in for those places. 🙂 Most of these countries are located in Central and Eastern Europe, so it’s easy to stay in the same budget from place to place.

 

  • Albania – this one is the next on my list for the Balkans. I’ve heard such wonderful things and all the photos have me ready to buy some plane tickets! 
  • Bulgaria
  • Belarus
  • Bosnia & Herzegovina – I’m going to strongly encourage you to visit! If you’ve been reading the blogs even, you know how much I love Sarajevo. I think I’m going to put some information together to help you see how awesome this place is and get you excited to visit! Stay tuned… 
  • Estonia – Ah, the Baltic countries! I haven’t visited yet, but I’ll get there sooner rather than later and this one is at the top of my list. 
  • Kosovo
  • Latvia
  • Gorgeous cottage near Lake Bohinj, Slovenia

    Lithuania
  • Moldova – I read somewhere recently this is the least visited country in Europe, so if you want to get off the beaten path, this sounds like the place. 
  • Montenegro
  • North Macedonia
  • Romania – beautiful nature from the Black Sea coast to the Carpathian Mountains, amazing food, wonderful people, cute little towns, and such a memorable experience!
  • Russia – one of two countries that straddles East and West. Very affordable, from my research, but you do need a visa and arrangements to visit. 
  • Serbia
  • Slovenia – wins all of the nature things (for places I’ve been) in this category. Slovenia is GORGEOUS!!! 
  • Slovakia – another beautiful country. I loved the High and Low Tatra Mountain, but didn’t make it to Bratislava. My husband did though and came home with rave reviews!
  • Turkey – technically the country has a foot in both Europe and Asia, which makes it extra interesting! It’s way up my list of places I want to visit!
  • Ukraine
 

So Close…

Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy

There are a few places that have some overlap, even within the country. In certain areas, you can totally live the Budget Travel life, but major cities might have you closer to Won’t Break the Bank. 

  • Andorra – a tiny little country on the border between Spain and France. 
  • Austria – Salzburg has a special place in my heart, and the entire country is gorgeous!
  • Czechia – I absolutely LOVE Prague – it’s one of my favorite European cities. You can do it Budget Travel style, if you’re careful. Once outside the city though, prices drop pretty dramatically. 
  • Croatia – this is probably the most expensive country in the Balkans because it’s so popular for its coastline and islands. 
  • Hungary – very similar to Czechia with prices. Budapest can be more expensive, but once outside the city, it’s super affordable.
  • Greece – Outside of Athens and the major island destinations, things hit the Budget Travel zone quickly! 
  • Italy – the major cities and regions like Tuscany are more expensive, but the countryside can be Budget Travel for sure!
  • Poland – I’ve only visited border towns, which were very inexpensive but the cities with major attractions, like Krakow, see prices jump a bit. 
  • Portugal  – same story. You can do Lisbon on the cheap, but once you get outside the city then it’s much more budget friendly. 
  • Spain – again, outside of Barcelona and Madrid, you can make it Budget Travel style

Won’t Break The Bank

These are probably the places you typically think of when it comes to Europe and how much it will cost to visit. Most of the major cities can be done in this zone, if you don’t go too crazy with your splurges. Certain cities or activities might push you into the Bring Your Wallet! category, depending on your preferences. Other areas can totally fall into the Budget Travel zone, so do your research. 

Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany

Because these countries have such a variety of things to see and do, they’re difficult to categorize. I’d have to write a novel for comments, so I’ve skipped it for this group! Basically all the things you want to see here are awesome and you should totally go! I’ll refer back to my post about Affordable Destinations in Europe and say anywhere CAN be affordable, but that’s up to you. 🙂

  • Belgium
  • France
  • Germany
  • Ireland
  • Liechtenstein
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Switzerland 
  • United Kingdom

Bring Your Wallet!

Stockholm skyline

These are the places that, even if you’re super careful, are just more expensive. It’s primarily Scandinavian countries, which do their economics and politics a little differently than the rest of Europe. It’s more expensive to visit, but you’ll see that the locals live really well. They’re some of my favorite countries to visit with absolutely breathtaking scenery, great food, and friendly people!

Helpful hint: buy your booze at the duty free shop in the airport for Scandinavia! Bottle shops are SUPER expensive (a box of wine cost more than $50 when we were in Iceland! – yes, a box because I’m classy like that), open short hours, and not particularly easy to find.

  • Denmark – a perfect mix of Scandinavian and continental attitudes. Beer and wine are much more accessible, and the people are wonderful! I can’t wait to go explore more of this place! 
  • Finland – this is the one I haven’t visited yet, but my understand it that prices are similar
  • Iceland – MAGIC! It’s like landing on another planet! Because the majority of what’s great to see is nature based, camping makes it really doable on a tighter budget. 
  • Monaco – If you want luxury, this is the place! 
  • Norway – stay tuned, I’ll have a full report in just a few weeks!
  • Sweden – my first love! This is where it all began (you can read that story here). It’s spendy, but Stockholm is a beautiful city and what I’ve seen of the countryside is gorgeous. The landscape around the southern part of the country totally reminds me of Minnesota!

I think I’ll make this into a series of posts for you and talk more about each category. There’s so much awesomeness that one blog post isn’t sufficient, but I hope it helps! 🙂

Now get out there, the world is waiting for you.

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