Truth be told, I’m not sure if Zagreb, Croatia would have ever made it on my radar had it not been for an inexpensive and convenient flight from Madrid to launch our Balkan adventures. But oh am I glad that it did.
St. Mark’s Church in Zagreb
The Balkan Peninsula is a fascinating region to visit today because of its recent troubled history. Most of us grew up watching the area plagued with war and perhaps never would have believed that the Balkans would soon become a hotbed of tourism and resorts. Not surprisingly, from the end of the Croatian War of Independence until today, the number of annual tourists in Croatia has grown 442%, and talking to any backpacker in Europe, it’s clear just how popular it’s become.
Traveling the Balkans in the summer of 2013 ruined my life forever.
Two summers ago, I set out to make the most of my final months in Europe, not knowing yet where I would be heading next but aware that this would be my last opportunity for a while to take Europe by storm.
Swimming in Hvar, Croatia
I had been able to travel extensively throughout the continent during my years of studying and then teaching in Spain, but there were still far too many parts of Europe that I had yet to discover. In the months leading up to the end of my time as an English teacher, my vague idea to see Eastern Europe secured a travel buddy (then two more), became a more developed plan, and then eventually turned into a thorough itinerary for exploring much of the Balkan Peninsula over a period of five weeks.
No matter how many years I spend outside of the U.S., I’m still American through and through – and damn proud of it, especially considering the week my country is currently having. I also jump at any chance I get to be festive, so I’ve made a point to celebrate Fourth of July no matter where I am in the world.
Fourth of July last year in Sydney. Bonus points for converting Australians?
America’s birthday two years ago fell in the middle of my epic five-week trip through the Balkans. Spending the day on the Croatian island of Hvar (more on that when I get to the full trip recap in a future post!), my group of four American expats was determined to honor Independence Day in one way or another.
I can’t believe the year has flown by so fast, but it’s time once again for my end-of-year travel recap post (see 2011 and 2012). And I must say that, having visited sixteen countries this year alone (plus loads of cities within each), 2013 may have been the best year for travel yet.
Once again, I began the year in California, home from Spain for two weeks to celebrate Christmas with friends and family. I then returned to my beloved Madrid, where I would live for another six months. At the end of January, I took a fabulous trip to the Spanish island of Menorca for just €15 round-trip, which proved absolutely beautiful, particularly because the island was almost empty in the off-season, allowing us to crawl coastal cliffs and explore abandoned buildings with no one around.
We ended the third day in Menorca with one of the best sunsets I’ve ever witnessed, preceded by a full double rainbow. Perfection.
Life continued in Madrid with lots of adventures and outings with friends I now miss. I also got to return to Sevilla for a work trip, rediscovering all of the things that made me fall in love with the city when I lived there the previous year.
Since returning from my epic Balkans trip a few weeks ago, I still haven’t so much as mentioned it on my blog. If you’ve liked my Facebook page (which you really should, hint hint) or if you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen my photos along the way, but, knowing me, I probably won’t get around to doing proper updates about each of the places I visited for another few months.
Oia, Santorini, Greece
Instead, let me do a brief recap. Bottom line: I LOVED it. In the span of 35 days, I went to Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia (okay, we just paused at a rest stop there), Montenegro, Serbia, Greece, Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary, visiting multiple cities within each. Before taking off, I had
In two days, I take off on the trip of a lifetime, 35 straight days of traveling Eastern Europe, visiting 8 or 9 countries I’ve never seen. Then, I return to Madrid for a few days, travel down to Sevilla for work, and then fly to Pisa to spend a week with my family in Lake Como before finally coming back to the States.
My basic travel itinerary for this summer!
It’s going to be exhausting and occasionally frustrating, and I’m