European Road Trip

Intro

I was chatting to a mate one day, and decided that due to my fear of flying, I’d fly to one place, rent a car and visit a load of countries in one trip. Within the day, I’d booked the flights and was figuring out a route.

The route turned out to be about 2000km, going through 7 countries with a train ride and back from Skopje to Kosovo – I didn’t end up doing this because I was exhausted from the tens of thousands of kilometres I had walked and the thousands of miles I had driven. I will re-visit Skopje at some point because it was nothing short of amazing, so I’ll make sure I visit Kosovo then.

I’ll be keeping this post as short as I can because 7 countries in one post is a bit long, and I’ll be totally honest, I’m too busy to write a long post on each country at the minute. If you have any other questions, just contact me on any social media (@m88ulv.)

A quick note. I bought a SatNav with European maps, which helped me save my data. Here’s a good one:

Kotor, Montenegro

I didn’t know what to expect whilst arriving in Montenegro, but I was pleasantly surprised as how nice it was. I landed at Tivat airport, flying from Manchester. It was a really small airport, but had a few car rental companies. I used Sixt, and had pre-booked and checked that I could drive in all of the countries I was going to. It turned out that I couldn’t drive in Kosovo, hence the train journey mentioned above.

Montenegro use the Euro, so I also thought that renting a car in Euros would be better as I’m used to handling that currency.

I was chatting to the couple next to me on the plane who were staying in Kotor old town, so we swapped numbers and I met them for a beer later on.

I drove about 15 minutes from the airport to Kotor, through a long underground tunnel, which dissected this mountain, bringing me out into a valley with a beautiful bay. The bay had bars, restaurants, a marina and that day, it had a triathlon being held with live music.

The weather was insane, as it was really hot, but kept raining, thundering with bright lightning bolts in the clouds, which covered the whole valley and came most of the way down the mountains. Check out the images below and you’ll see what I mean.

The guest house was on the other side of the bay to the restaurants, and the drive to the guest house was insane as you can see in the video below. The road could barely fit one car and there was nothing to stop you driving into the water if you went too far over.

The view from the guest house was great though, and I got a quality sleep, ready to drive to Dubrovnik the next day.

I will mention that I went to a bar to watch the Liverpool game, and I was the only person sat inside the bar watching the TV – mid-match, the bartender walked over and changed the channel to F1 and just stood watching it. So I told him to put it back as I, the customer, was watching it. He reluctantly did it. Later, a group of lads came in and asked to change it to the Man City match, so I told them I was watching Liverpool and even though they didn’t understand anything apart from the word Liverpool, they weren’t too bothered and watch the Liverpool game. 10 minutes from the end, the same bartender just turned over to the Man City game without anybody asking him to. I asked him to put it back, he completely ignored me and walked back behind the bar. So I walked out of the bar without paying, completely ignoring him when he shouted me. Was I right to do so? I’d say so.

Quick Overview

Rating: 6/10.

Highlight: The bay.

Worst Bit: The waiter.

Would I Return: If there was a really cheap flight.

Montenegro - Kotor, Tivat

Dubrovnik, Croatia

I woke up quite early to head to Dubrovnik to make sure that there was little traffic at the border. I eased through the border as I did at all of the following borders – perks of being British I guess.

Within a minute of exiting the border, I spotted a hitchhiker (there are loads), and for some reason I decided to pick him up. Let’s get something straight though, he was a normal, chilled looking lad (hippie with dreads), and if for some reason he decided he wanted to car-jack me, I wouldn’t have struggled stopping him. Funnily enough, he was dead sound, a Belgian lad who’d been travelling for a long time. When we arrived in Dubrovnik, we explored together a bit and went to some decent places, like the hole in the wall bar, which as you can see below is something you’ve got to see whilst in Dubrovnik.

After this, we went our separate ways and I did some more exploring before finding the hotel, which was quite a drive away, even though it looks like it’s walking distance on the map.

Dubrovnik is not cheap, parking is ridiculously expensive, even compared to England. I’d compare food and drink prices to that of England; don’t go thinking it’ll be a cheap holiday. Every other country I visited was unbelievably cheap.

Dubrovnik is somewhere I’d visit again, for a full holiday, but with somebody, rather than alone.

Quick Overview

Rating: 7/10.

Highlight: The hole in the wall bar.

Worst Bit: Price of parking.

Would I Return: Yeah, with a partner.

Croatia - Dubrovnik
Croatia - Dubrovnik

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

The border between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina was only a few miles from the hotel, so after a short drive, I was driving a country that I used to send shoeboxes to when I was in primary school. As I was driving, I was thinking it’s insane that I’m now there on holiday.

The drive was long, but a really nice drive, although these countries have the worst drivers in Europe, in my opinion – it actually got worse the further I got around my trip, with Albania being beyond ridiculous.

It was so hard not to speed, because if you did the speed limit, you’d have cars directly up your arse. My rental car had the Montenegro EU badge on it, so they knew I wasn’t from their country, but they didn’t know I was English, so I was also driving on the wrong side, reading the speed in KM instead of miles.

My sat-nav kept telling me that there were speed cameras everywhere, but I never saw one, until it was too late. A mobile speed camera, who pulled me over.

I spent like 30 minutes trying to communicate with the Bosnian policemen, who couldn’t even read my name as their language is written in Cyrillic script (the Russian looking letters). They managed to say ‘Name’, so I pointed at it on my license, but they were so confused. I did the only thing I could think of, as I thought they may possibly be wondering which was my surname. I said ‘Edin Dzeko… Martin Mulvey’, to show them that Mulvey was my surname. It turns out that was correct!

After it taking them so long to write my details down, and call their station and so on, he asked for 25 euros, which was fine, but I only had 30, so I gave him 30. Then we had another 10 minutes of trying to use Google Translate, just to find out that he wanted to give me change but didn’t have any, so I’d have to follow them to the station. Nope, keep the fiver mate, I’m off to Sarajevo, I’ve got 4 hours left to drive. They waved me on my way and off I was, absolutely not speeding again – give a shit about the cars up my arse.

Because Bosnia isn’t on O2’s travel plan, that short Google Translate session cost me £125 – so that was good.

Some of the views along the way were unreal, as I was driving through the Bosnian mountains – this just isn’t how you’d expect Bosnia to be, especially because most of us can remember the war here not so long ago.

Sarajevo

As I arrived in Sarajevo, it took me so long to find the hotel, and the streets were so tight that I was lucky I had rented a Fiesta, as a bigger car would have had no chance. It took me a while to find the hotel, and it was up a huge hill; no issue.

I wandered into the city centre to get some food and to walk about taking photos. I was sat down at a nice pizzeria, and had a pizza and a couple of beers on the patio area. I’d exchanged about 30 euros, I think, whilst in Dubrovnik, into Bosnian Marks, which turns out to be a lot of money over there. The pizza and beers ended up only costing about £4 in total.

This city is weird, in a good way. There are mosques and churches right next door to each other, and there doesn’t seem to be any sort of issue between the two religions there. The side-streets with the market stalls were an odd sight, and there was a lot of bronze/brass ornaments, in most of the markets.

The most compelling sight is the thousands of graves, everywhere, literally in every single part of your vision – thousands, and thousands and thousands of graves from the genocide. I don’t know enough about it, so I’m going to spend some time reading about it, but that was a sight to see.

I definitely didn’t have enough time in Sarajevo, so I’ll probably go again at some point.

Quick Overview

Rating: 7/10.

Highlight: The price of everything.

Worst Bit: Getting a speeding ticket.

Would I Return: Yeah, for a longer trip.

Bosnia Herzegovina - Sarajevo
Bosnia Herzegovina - Sarajevo

Watch this video to see how tight the roads were!

Nova Varoš, Serbia

Whilst looking at the route I was going to take, due to the issue with driving through Kosovo, it meant I had to cross Serbia to go to Bulgaria, which was a seriously long drive. As Belgrade is in the north of the country, I thought I’d choose a small town on the route to Bulgaria and stay there for a night. It looked like a nice place on the map, as I used Google street view and checked out reviews and so on, but when I got there, it was dead, with zero to do. I drove to a lake nearby to have lunch, but it was dead again, and pretty boring.

Lakeside was pretty dirty, with food wrappers and bottles everywhere. I found another smaller lake and decided to have lunch there instead. It was really quiet and quite relaxing. Apart from that, I wandered around the town looking for things to do, but there wasn’t anything. I took a few photos and just went to bed, ready for a 7 hour drive the next day, to Bulgaria.

On the drive to Bulgaria, there were road closures, so I ended up going pretty much up to Belgrade anyway; pretty annoying, but whatever.

Quick Overview

Rating: 2/10.

Highlight: The drive.

Worst Bit: The town in general.

Would I Return: Definitely not.

Serbia - Nova Varos

Sofia, Bulgaria

I wasn’t actually meant to be going to Bulgaria, it turned out that because I couldn’t drive through Kosovo due to insurance, I had to go around it, which meant going to Sofia, a 7 hour drive from where I was staying in Serbia, then a 4 hour drive to Skopje, 2 days later

Upon arriving, and navigating through the capital of Bulgaria, I was in a pretty foul mood, extremely tired and because I didn’t really want to be there, I was pretty annoyed.

I got to the hotel, and it had gated parking; the owners helped me park in this unimaginably tight space and then showed me to my room. The owners were so helpful and their English was perfect. The hotel was pretty old, and the shower was in the toilet, like the size of a closet, and when you had a shower, it just went everywhere; into the sink, down the toilet and then flowed off into the corner to drain – I thought this was hilarious. To be fair, for like £12 a night, can’t and didn’t complain.

I was lying on the bed, really tired, chatting to a mate telling him that I wasn’t in a good mood. He suggested going to grab some dinner, snacks, water then seeing how I felt after eating. So I walked outside, and as soon as I turned out of the street, I realised that Sofia was stunning – I was staying literally a 1 minute walk from the high street, the main parks and all sorts of museums. I had a quick wander around this huge park which was full of people chilling, skateboarding, listening to music and just seemingly happy people.

I later went on a walk, looking for some food and found an expensive-looking sushi restaurant, so after checking the menu out, I figured out the exchange rate and realised that it was unbelievably cheap – so a sushi feast it was. I think I ate about 3 people’s worth of sushi, and tried sake for the first time. Oh, and Unagi.

I grabbed some snacks and went to chill in the room. I fell asleep quite quickly, a 7 hour drive doesn’t half take it out of you.

The next day I did my usual thing of wandering around for hours, looking at things, seeing if anything unusual was going on, chilled out in a park, got pretty burnt, ate, drank and chatted to a few people.

Sofia is decent; I’d definitely come back and spend a bit more time there.

Quick Overview

Rating: 8/10.

Highlight: The scenery.

Worst Bit: Beggars.

Would I Return: Definitely.

Bulgaria - Sofia
Bulgaria - Sofia

Skopje, Macedonia

Well this part of the trip brought the first actual hurdle; ignore the speeding ticket, those policemen were pretty sound.

After a 4 or 5 hour drive, I just could not find the hotel, so I parked up and went into a nice looking bar to ask a waiter. The second I walked in, everybody just stared at me like they could see I was foreign. I just pointed to the name of the hotel and asked if they knew where it was; the English speaking waiter came over and just said it’s a few hundred metres down the road and pointed. As I walked out, I spotted 3 signs that said “No guns” – alright sound, so there are guns around, in former Yugoslavia, great.

I walked in the direction he said and spotted the hotel, so ran back to the car and drove to the hotel. Upon walking in, the girl behind the desk told me that my room had flooded overnight and I couldn’t stay there – it hadn’t rained for like 10 weeks, I had been checking before I went on the trip. Anyway, I ended up pretty angry, furiously looking for somewhere else to stay and found a place, so I told her to call them – wasn’t really in the mood for asking or being nice – I genuinely think they overbooked and made up the flooding thing.

She spoke to the guy at the apartment who said if I can get there within the hour, that’s fine; he even told her where I could park. When I set off, I just couldn’t get to where I wanted to go because the police had blocked the road off, so it took a while, but definitely under an hour. I parked up, couldn’t find the apartment so called him – his English was fine. He said, no I told the girl that I was on holiday and nobody was there to let you in so to book somewhere else. I don’t know who I believe, don’t really care anymore.

I decided to go into a cafe, use the wifi, get a drink and just calm down – I was actually thinking of just driving straight to Albania right then to stay an extra few nights there instead of staying in Macedonia at all, but I found this sick looking hotel less than a mile away. So I booked, paid and drove.

When I got there, I realised that this was a proper hotel, not a dodgy Macedonian B&B. This was not cheap (it was for us, but for Macedonia, it was expensive). When I got there, the girl made sure I was relaxed, asked me about my day and when I told her she just smiled and said, I’ll upgrade you to our best room for free, so you have a good time here. The boss came out, and she explained to him and he smiled at me and told me to have a great time, and told me a few things to do – one being to check out the first craft brewery in Macedonia, which I did.

So after being taken to the room, I was shocked, it was so nice, chilled, comfortable and relaxing. Check out the photos below.

I was only a few minutes walk from the main areas, and wow, Skopje was amazing. It’s up there with my favourite cities; if you have the chance, definitely go. It’s a shame you need to fly there from Luton, but, you could fly to Sofia, have a few days there, few days in Skopje then fly back from Sofia – get on it.

Skopje is very, very cheap. For example, the zoo cost me like £0.40 to get in, water was pence, pizzas were like £2, beer was a few quid – an artisan ice cream turned out to be like £0.70.

The whole place is spotless, and they spend some serious cash on monuments and statues – they are literally everywhere!

Check out those boats, they’re bars and restaurants on the river – I didn’t go in, so no idea what sort of food or drinks they do, but they look cool.

The old bazaar is where you can see the canopy of umbrellas, one of those Instagrammable photos that you’ll definitely take if you ever go. The pizzas there were excellent, as were the craft ales.

I wandered around the castle, which was free. The castle overlooks the city, where you can see all sorts of amazing buildings and monuments, but the main thing to check out is the HUGE cross on the hill, which illuminates at night.

I will definitely come back to Skopje one day, probably as I said above, with a flight to Sofia. I’d quite like to do this trip with someone and to do some more stuff and to check out some museums etc. I need to actually go to Kosovo, so I can’t really see myself in this area without spending a few days in Skopje again.

Quick Overview

Rating: 10/10.

Highlight: Everything.

Worst Bit: Issue with the first two hotels.

Would I Return: Definitely. Already planning it.

Macedonia - Skopje
Macedonia - Skopje

Shkodër, Albania

I had to drive through Albania to get back to Montenegro to fly home, and Skopje to Montenegro is a really long way because I couldn’t drive through Kosovo, so I was either going to stop in the capital (Tirana) or Shkodër, which was close to the border.

I booked a room at a B&B in Shkodër, which was really cheap and satisfactory. The B&B was about a 10 minute walk from the restaurants, and that was a really nice area.

My first interaction with any Albanians was at a service station on the motorway. The lads came straight up to my car and asked how much fuel I’d like (I assumed), because I had no idea what they had said. They were wearing uniforms, don’t worry, it wasn’t just two random lads.

I went into the garage after paying, to get a cup of tea. I had a banging headache and was pretty tired as I’d already driven about 3 hours that morning. When I went to pay for the tea, the lady looked at me then called a young lad over to translate. He said that I had to pay by cash because the cost of a tea is too low. I said that I don’t have any Albanian money, or Euros, but I did have loads of Bosnian, Croatian and Bulgarian money in the car. He just said not to worry about it and gave me the tea for free, but said, please remember that Albanians are really nice people, shook my hand, and went back to sit down. I never would have expected at all that this would happen in Albania, as it definitely wouldn’t happen in England, and people have perceptions of Albania to be rough?

So this was a good start; I got to Tirana and noticed that the drivers were absolutely appalling. Roundabout etiquette does not exist, you simply just drive straight into the roundabout, pulling into any space you can get, beeping and some people even driving the wrong way – excellent, at least I paid for the no excess insurance. Somehow I finished the trip without getting a scratch on the car though!

I was going to stop in Tirana and check out what was going on, but I genuinely couldn’t find anywhere to park and just didn’t fancy it when I got there. I drove off to Shkodër and the landscape eventually changed from being quite arid and dusty to being very green with lakes everywhere.

I arrived in Shkodër and the bad drivers appeared again; just as bad as in Tirana. I quickly found the B&B, which had gated parking; awesome.

After chatting to the lad who ran the B&B, I wandered into the town to grab a bit of food and to take some photos. Shkodër is a really nice place! I grabbed a local mixed grill and a beer before heading on a walk up to the castle. As I was walking up to the castle, it got really dark, really fast, so the pictures were a bit shit.

I walked back into town to grab a beer and ended up chatting to some Albanian girls and stayed for a few drinks with one of them until I was knackered; then I went back to the hotel to get some sleep as I had another 2-3 hour drive in the morning, back to the airport to fly home.

Overall, Albania was alright actually, but I don’t really have a reason to go back. I will reiterate how shit the drivers are, they should not be allowed to drive.

Quick Overview

Rating: 6/10.

Highlight: Nightlife.

Worst Bit: World’s worst drivers.

Would I Return: Probably not.

Albania - Shkodër, Tirana
Albania - Shkodër, Tirana

Summary

I was shocked at most places that I went to, for different reasons. Mainly because everywhere was really nice, apart from the place I went to in Serbia, which was pretty boring, but that was my fault for choosing there instead of going to Belgrade.

The best place, and I’d go again and again is Skopje in Macedonia – it was just awesome in every way. It’s a shame there are no direct flights from the north, and I don’t plan on flying from Luton. If you’re going to visit Skopje, I’d suggest flying to Sofia, spending some time there, and checking out Skopje, which is a 4 hour drive away, for a few days. You won’t regret it.

Next? I’m currently deciding where my next big trip is,. It’s likely to be another multi-country tour, but this time by train. I’ve come up with a route, which would be to fly to Venice in Italy, get the train to San Marino, then back to Venice the same day, stay in Venice for the night, get the train to Ljubljana in Slovenia, stay 2 nights, train to Vienna in Austria, stay 2 nights, train to Bratislava in Slovakia, stay 2 nights, train to Budapest in Hungary, stay 2 nights, train to Cluj in Romania, stay 2 nights and fly home from there. The longest train journey is about 7 hours, but it’ll be so much more relaxed on a train than driving, as I can chill out and watch Netflix, paying no attention to what’s going on around me, and no speeding tickets!

I’m off to Berlin in Germany in October and Porto in Portugal in November; potentially Agadir in Morocco for New Year’s Eve; so my travelling for the year isn’t done yet.

Any questions about where I’ve been to, find me on social media – @m88ulv on everything.

Quick Overview

Rating: 9/10.

Highlights: Skopje and Sofia in general. Driving in rural Bosnia. How cheap everywhere was. Hotel in Skopje.

Worst Bits: Hotel issue in Macedonia. Drivers in Albania.

Would I Do It Again: Definitely. Already planning next year’s trip.

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