I'm a budget traveler who got a great price on a non-stop flight to Frankfurt arriving 3/25. I bought an Eastern Europe Railpass and a Balkan Pass, each good for one month after 1st use. Since it's still early spring, and I'd like to stretch my $$ for more than 1 month, I'm thinking to get straight into the Balkans (warmer, presumably) without using my Eastern Europe pass. I'm considering a cheap flight from Frankfurt to Athens. Or a train Frankfurt to Ljublana (pd without using a railpass). Any other suggestions?
Besides Ljublana and Athens, what else do you want to see? Although the region has calmed down considerably from the "Wild East" days of the 1990s, there are still certain key areas- Kosovo, Serbia- where transit becomes difficult. Together with Albania, these countries leave the southern Balkans surprisingly isolated from the northern part of the peninsula for direct travel. And as far as weather, the Adriatic and Aegean coasts are certainly warmer, but the interior can be surprisingly cold at that time of year.
I'm particularly interested in Bulgaria, which sits nestled BEHIND so much. I speak fluent Russian, so have no problem with the cyrillic alphabet. It looks like a train from Thessaloniki to Sofia will work. But I hate to miss Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro. So the Frankfurt/Athens flight would let me get easily to Thessaloniki, Bulgaria and Romania. On the other hand the Frankfurt/Ljubljana train would get me to Slovenia and Croatia... but then where? Is a train to/thru Belgrade really out of the question? Will my Russian help?
The difficulty with Serbia is that it requires a visa for entry. Even if you don't stay overnight, if your train passes through the country, you still need a visa. You could avoid this problem by taking a long route through Hungary and Romania to reach Bulgaria... which by the way, in my opinion, is one of Europe's greatest travel secrets.
Thanks, Tom. The visa is a deal killer. If I knew that, I had forgotten it. So it looks like I'm going to Rumania, tho I'm not nearly as interested in it as I am in Bulgaria. I've seen Rick's video on Bulgaria and I have the Berlitz guide. A friend of mine who was there in the 80's (and doesn't speak any Slavic language) thought it was wonderful, so it's interesting to hear you confirm that. Any tips you'd care to pass on... favorite places, etc, I would really appreciate hearing.
Tom is wrong. You do not need need a visa to travel in Serbia. This is a myth that I have seen repeatedly on the internet. (I have traveled to Novi Sad more than once!) Should you stay in Serbia, you will have to register with the local police (hotels do this for you), but you will not need pre-arranged visa as you would in Russia. Should you travel by train, you will be held up at the border for two to three hours. Since Serbia does not have an automated check of passports , they must check each passport manually againist a paper "database." You may be pushed for bribes for "visas" by unsavory characters, but just mention your embassy, you will be left alone. (As long as no one else attacks the US Embassy!) If you are traveling through Serbia with no overnight stay, you do should not have any problems.
Google Serbian Embassy, Washington, and click on Consular. All the rules, regs, procedures for visa, passing through, etc. are well explained and no, you don't need a visa. I checked the Ottawa website but expect the DC one is the almost the same.
Thank you to everyone who has posted here. I will check out the Serbian consular website... horse's mouth, so to speak. A new thought has occurred to me on this. Since the Balkans are cheaper than the rest of Central/Eastern Europe that I'm interested in, perhaps leaving the Balkans for later in the season makes financial sense.
Again, anyone who has specific Bulgarian delights to recommend, I'd love to hear them.
Oops, looks like the rules have changed since I was last there. While the embers of the Yugoslav wars were still smoldering, Serbia was effectively a choke point that slowed down direct traffic between the north and south Balkans.
Perhaps that's why Bulgaria is still such a well-kept secret?!
We traveled independently with our kids throught the Balkans last year. We flew from FRA to Dubrovnik (via Zagreb) but this was on a free ticket. Our route was Dubrovnik-Kotor-Ulcinj-Tirana-Lake Ohrid-Skopje-Sofia-Plovdiv-Veliko Tarnovo-Bucharest-Brasov. The main point is that after researching travel options, I found that it was much easier to travel through these areas on a bus rather than a train. In fact the only trains we took were on the last 2 legs: VT-Bucharest-Brasov.
Based on previous travel, the train ride between Ljubljana and Zagreb was interseting. Not sure how cheap it is to get from FRA to Slovenia. However, you will have limitations in getting to the Croatian coast - I know there is an overnight train but not sure how far you can travel by train to other areas in Croation.
With your railpasses, you will be able to explore Bulgaria because the key toursit sites are connected by train - It is definitely a great country and well worth visiting