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RTW 6 1/2 – The Balkans Edition

Surprisingly Serbia – Belgrade & Novi Sad

Posted by on Jul 20, 2011 | 2 comments

Surprisingly Serbia – Belgrade & Novi Sad

I’ll be honest. I didn’t have high expectations for Serbia. But it didn’t make sense to plan 3 weeks in the Balkans without a visit to one of the region’s most prominent nations. So here I am, with 2 days to explore the country once considered the “bad boy” of the Balkans.

The break-up of the 6 nations that made up the former Yugoslavia was a complicated and bloody affair that dominated international headlines for most of the 1990’s. Since I am visiting all 6 former Yugoslav nations on this trip, I thought a quick history re-cap was in order as I knew embarrassingly little about Yugoslavia myself before arriving here.

In the past few weeks I’ve found that the story of the break-up varies quite a bit depending on who is telling it, but I’ll try to piece together as accurate an account as possible.

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The Jerusalem of Europe – Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Posted by on Jul 19, 2011 | 0 comments

The Jerusalem of Europe – Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Nestled between the rugged mountains of Romanija, Bjelašnica and Trebevic and divided by the Miljacka River, lies Sarajevo – the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Historically, Sarajevo was famous for its religious diversity. Followers of Islam, Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Judaism coexisted here for centuries inspiring the nickname “The Jerusalem of Europe.” In the 1980’s Sarajevo gained world notoriety as the host city for the 1984 Winter Olympics but today it is more likely remembered as ground zero in the Balkans conflict.

After suffering tremendous losses during World War II, Sarajevo was rebuilt and greatly expanded. In fact, the city almost tripled in size during the formative years of socialist Yugoslavia. By 1984, when Sarajevo hosted the 14th Winter Olympic Games, it was a modern city of half a million people.

Unfortunately, the Olympic flame would soon burn out and just eight years later Sarajevo was trapped in a bloody civil war. In addition to being exposed to daily sniper and mortar fire during the Yugoslavian conflict, the inhabitants of the city suffered severe shortages of food and fuel during the nearly four-year siege. During this time, the only life-line was an 800-meter-long tunnel – dubbed the Tunnel of Hope – through which food and other supplies were brought in.

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Ljovely Ljubljana

Posted by on Jul 17, 2011 | 0 comments

Ljovely Ljubljana

Shannon and I arrived in Ljubljana around 10:30am after a pleasant bus ride from Rijeka. As we made our way into town in search of our hotel, we got our first glimpse of the town. It was enough to make me forget all about the lousy ferry ride from Dubrovnik the night before.

Known as one of the greenest countries in the world due to its expansive forests, tiny Slovenia is bordered by Italy, Austria, Hungary, Croatia and a small stretch of the Adriatic Sea. Like Croatia and Montenegro, it was part of the former Yugoslavia before gaining independence in 1991. Since then it has turned itself into a pint-sized tourism machine.

The heart of that machine is the capital city of Ljubljana. Translated loosely in Slovene as “beloved” it’s easy to see what draws visitors to this colorful town.

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(Not Exactly) A Ferry Tale: The Jadrolinija Ferry from Dubrovnik to Rijeka

Posted by on Jul 16, 2011 | 29 comments

(Not Exactly) A Ferry Tale: The Jadrolinija Ferry from Dubrovnik to Rijeka

We had high hopes for our 23 hour ferry ride from Dubrovnik to Rijeka, Croatia. After all, we’d recently had a wonderful 7 days at sea aboard the MSC Splendida so cruising the famed Dalmatian Coast on Croatia’s Jadrolinija Line sounded like the perfect way to get from Dubrovnik to our next stop in Ljubljana, Slovenia (Rijeka is about 2hrs away by bus).

We’d taken all reasonable precautions to ensure a delightful experience. We splurged on an outside cabin with ensuite bath versus riding out the hours in the ship’s lounge or on deck (like many others). I’d been on an overnight ferry before (from Tallinn to Stockholm) and it was a fantastic experience. Just like a mini-cruise ship with all the amenities. My cabin was adorable.

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In Dubrovnik Summer Sizzles but Winter is Wiser

Posted by on Jul 15, 2011 | 0 comments

In Dubrovnik Summer Sizzles but Winter is Wiser

With marble streets surrounded by blistering white city walls edging the emerald-colored Adriatic Sea, Dubrovnik is a real stunner. We arrived at noon from Montenegro after one of the most scenic bus rides I’ve ever taken along the Bay of Kotor. As you follow the cliffside road by the sea, you get your first views of the city walls of Dubrovnik from above. It’s almost enough to make you gasp.

We made our way from the main bus station to the old city and entered the city walls through the Pile Gate. Just a few steps from the Stradun (Dubrovnik’s main boulevard) we located our apartment for the next two nights, Apartment Bete. We’d booked through AirBnb for the first time and I was curious to see what the apartment would be like. It turned out to be just as advertised and the owner was lovely. After settling in, it was time to head out into the heat of the day and see the sights.

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Montenegro & the Bay of Kotor

Posted by on Jul 12, 2011 | 4 comments

Montenegro & the Bay of Kotor

It’s often described as Southern Europe’s most spectacular fjord. Though it’s technically a submerged river canyon, it’s easy to understand the sentiment behind that label.

Surrounded by sapphire bays on one side and Mount Lovcen on the other, Kotor’s Stari Grad (Old Town) is protected by sturdy walls built in the 9th century that have protected Kotor from centuries of would-be invaders. The marbled lanes of the Old Town contain a labyrinth of churches, cafes and shops – each piazza more delightful than the last.

Up the face of Mount Lovcen are miles of ancient fortifications reminiscent of a mini Great Wall of China including a castle and a monastery. If we’d had more time – and I do wish we had – we would have climbed them, the views over the bay are said to be spectacular.

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