After my successful road-trip in May this year around the Balkans, through 7 countries; I decided that I wanted to do something similar in 2019. The long drives, especially between Serbia and Bulgaria were hard, especially as they were through the mountains, so no time to just chill by just driving straight on a motorway. Also, the car didn’t have cruise control, so that meant extra effort.
I spent quite some time looking at the map of Europe, crossing off countries that I have already been to, which is over 50% now, then crossing off countries that I couldn’t get to by train from countries that I’ve not already been to. For example, any islands are gone, like Malta, Iceland and Cyprus. I’ve already been to Malta and Iceland, but not Cyprus, that’s for another trip. Countries like Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Monaco and Andorra are a no-go for now because I’d have to go through loads of countries that I’ve been to before, just to get there.
So it looks like I’ve go a few options here:
Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus.
This option looked alright until I looked further into it. You need to actually fly to Minsk to get a visa, otherwise the police/border control take you to the airport to get one, and it’s a big country. I actually spoke to a lad from Belarus who told me this.
I can’t even seem to find any train tickets from reputable sites to get between these countries either.
So option 1 is a no-go.
Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland.
This one would be pretty easy. Flights to Oslo and Copenhagen are really cheap.
Slovenia, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania.
The train journey between these countries looks great to be fair.
Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, Belarus.
Visas, border control and all sorts of barriers make this one hard to do.
Russia, Armenia, Georgia and maybe Azerbaijan.
Same as option 4, visas would be an issue here. Also, depending on who you ask, they may say that these countries aren’t part of Europe.
I’ve found out that the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan would be a bit of an issue, maybe not for a Brit, but I’m not sure I want to risk being stuck there for a while or being turned away.
So what am I going to do? Option 2 or 3?
It’s going to be option 3. I already know from research that Blue Air, a Romanian company, fly to and from Liverpool airport. So by following the best train line, the optimal location to start at would either be Romania or Slovenia.
After checking flights, it looked like either Timisoara or Cluj would be the best place to fly to or from in Romania. I did a bit of scoping out on Google Streetview to check out what was going on in those cities, and it looks like Cluj has more to do – also, it’s in Transylvania so I might see Dracula.
I decided that I wanted to do Romania last, so that meant going to Slovenia first. Right now I can’t find flights to anywhere in Slovenia from Manchester or Liverpool, but I’m sure they do actually fly there, at least from Manchester. If not, I’ll have to fly to Venice, then get the train to Ljubljana – it’s like 2.5 hours, so not the end of the world.
Let’s say I’m flying to Venice, because that’s the most likely route. I’ll more than likely get the train or a bus to San Marino for a few hours, just to tick that off – might as well since I’m there. Then go back to Venice for the night; I can’t stay in Venice without taking some pictures of the canals can I?
I know people absolutely love Italy, but I just don’t see the fascination, apart from the pizzas. I’ve been to the north and to Rome and the pizzas in the north were at least 10x better than the pizzas in Rome.
The next day I’ll jump on the train to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. I’ve heard this place is so nice, so I’m looking forward to seeing what’s going on there. I’m going to stay in each of the 5 main locations for 2 nights each, which will give me the first night to chill after a train journey, a full day to do stuff, then leave the next day.
From Ljubljana, I’ll be getting the train to Vienna, the capital of Austria. I’ve already looked at what’s going on here, and it looks like there’s a load of things to see and do.
From Vienna, it’s like an hour’s train journey to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. I’ve heard mixed things about Bratislava, good and bad – so I’ll make up my own mind when I get there.
From Bratislava, it’s a couple of hours on the train to Budapest, the capital of Hungary. I’ve only ever heard great things about Budapest, so I’m glad I’ve got a long time to do stuff here.
From Budapest, it’s a 7-8 hour train journey to Cluj in Romania, my final destination on this vacation. I’ll fly from Cluj to Liverpool. As I’ll be leaving from Manchester, I’ll probably have to get dropped off at Manchester, and picked up from Liverpool, rather than parking at either airport.
Whilst driving around The Balkans, I was getting tired, getting a sore back, sore neck and was pretty bored for some of the driving. I’ll be taking an iPad on this train journey and some sort of pillow, therefore, I’ll be able to completely chill out on the train journeys, watching Netflix, doing some learning and actually being able to occupy myself whilst sitting still for hours, rather than having to concentrate on driving. I don’t tend to be able to sleep on any form of transport, so it’s doubtful I’ll sleep, but the pillow will keep me comfortable at least.
I’ll be packing light, taking only a rucksack, and a little back pack inside that to take out during the day to carry food and drink. On the train, I’ll have that bag full of snacks.
I don’t really mind what the hotels are like, as long as I’ve got a private room. I know people tend to stay in hostels to keep the price down, but I’m not bothered about spending a few quid just to get a private room. I tend to do 10s of thousands of steps each day whilst exploring, so at night I want to be able to chill on my own and relax, rather than getting annoyed by other people snoring or just being around, especially people I don’t know.
If you’ve been to any of these places, or done any train journeys around here, let me know what you did and how you got on.
I’ve got time to plan, so let me know about some POIs in these cities and I’ll try to hit them.