Here at Euroventure there’s nowhere closer to our hearts nor more frustrating than the Balkans. The trains can be slow, the busses occasionally run on a …flexible schedule and the locals can sometimes be a little blunt for our British liking. Look closer though and you’ll find a land of glorious national wonders, buzzing cities, cheap beer, delicious food and friendly people. Here are the 10 things you’ll learn when visiting the Balkans.
In the Balkans, stuff happens at its own pace. The bus will leave when the conductor has finished his burek, okay!?! There’s zero point asking why the train has stopped in the middle of nowhere for 20 minutes. Most likely the driver doesn’t even know.
The first few times you’re in this situation, you feel your Northern European anxiety creep in – why have we stopped? What happens if I’m late? Will the hostel keep my reservation? Will I have time to eat dinner? None of these thoughts help speed up the journey.
After a little while, the worry drifts away and the slight chaos begins to have a positive effect… you realise nothing terrible happens when small things don’t go to plan. No one in the Balkans expects everything to be perfect, and there’s a strange kind of freedom in that.
Lost in a strange city while visiting the Balkans? Not for long. You ask someone, they shake their head and mutter at you. You feel deflated… Even worse, the guy starts wandering around the street loudly shouting at everyone and pointing at you. You wish the ground would swallow you up. But suddenly, quicker than you understand what’s happening, 7 Bosnian grandmas and their husbands are frog-marching you down the street to the bus stop. Maybe Bogdan didn’t know where you needed to get to, but his Aunt has a cousin who has a sister who’s married to a man who lives above a shop right next to that exact spot. He’s sure as hell not going to let you get away until you’ve found it – and then he’ll give you some of his Baklava so you don’t go hungry en route.
Tuica, Raki, Rakiya, Rakia, Rakija… Many words have one meaning in this region – you’re going to get drunk. Drunker than you intended. Drunker than you (or your host) could ever have foreseen. You have been warned.
Hundreds of years of empires, changing borders and political turbulence all result in a huge variety of currencies; and the inability to exchange them ANYWHERE outside the country as hard as you try. Dinar… Euros… Marks… back to Euros… Lek… You have never spent so much time in front of a currency exchange counter. You think about the luxury of being able to actually choose the exchange rate and even buy currency in advance, rather than handing over wodges of euros to a man in a dodgy plastic booth each time you move to a new country. Your wallet is overflowing with a variety of coins worth significantly less than a penny – but hey at least they make a nice souvenir. You resolve to appreciate the Euro more in future.
Cevapi… it’s basically little sausages in a bap. And yet… why does it taste so ridiculously amazing?! You will never know, but that doesn’t stop you going back for more.
Have you ever met someone with a drier sense of humour than the British? You have now. Initially you find people awfully rude. Then you realise that they’re actually joking about 50% of the time but their facial expression doesn’t move an inch. So begins your love affair with Balkan humour.
You arrive at your hostel and meet the owner. First things first: Rakija! Second, Food! Next, your host gives you all the information you could ever need and more, and you quickly discover that their knowledge is key to exploring the region. They’re certainly more reliable than the timetable from 2009 you saw in the bus stop… You book the hostel’s boat trip and you find yourself involved in a pub crawl that you don’t remember signing up to. You’ve never met people so passionate about sharing their city with travellers.
Hostels here are like little travel families – small, simple and perfectly formed. There’s no better way to learn that a journey is formed by the people you meet along the way. You realise that there’s nowhere you’d rather stay than a hostel that falls somewhere between a student house, a bed and breakfast and a family gathering of the world’s most interesting people. All for the price of a posh beer in London.
Having said that, if you do fancy a splash of luxury, then you don’t have to be a millionaire to afford it… Now you know that for at least half the price of any Western European city you can find yourself in the nicest place in town.
You thought maybe the concept hadn’t yet reached the Balkans. You are sorely disappointed. You make a mental note that there is almost nowhere in Europe where you can avoid chia puddings and poached eggs with avocado. Life is hard.
The people of Sarajevo say that no one ever visits their city only once – we think you can extend that to the whole region. Slowly but surely, these fascinating cities and their people worm their way into your heart. Maybe it’s the rakija, but you can’t help but look back lovingly on your trip. Minor frustrations at the time turn into excellent travel tales, unlikely meetings with surly looking men turn into warm and solid friendships, and that slow trundling train becomes a charming relic from a bygone era (ok maybe that last one is a stretch). You’re not quite sure why, but you always leave wanting more.
Is this wetting your appetite for all things Balkan? We don’t blame you. It won’t be long before everyone’s flocking to this land of strong drinks, fascinating stories and incredible destinations. Whether you’re sunbathing in Serbia or mountain climbing in Montenegro, it’s fair to say you’ll learn at least a few of these lessons along the way.
If you’re looking for a trip that checks off the highlights from this fascinating region, look no further than our Balkan Trail – an awesome 2 week adventure , or our Balkans Group Tour, to take you truly off the beaten track.