BUS HOPPING AROUND KOSOVO, ALBANIA AND MACEDONIA: How to do it

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ITINERARY PLANNING:

We visited Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania over eight days, meaning that we only had one or two days in each place. This was enough to see the highlights, but it also meant lots of travelling around.

TRANSPORT:

It’s tricky to find information about buses online, but TripAdvisor forums had the best information.

Bus tickets can’t be booked in advance online, but we had no problem getting them on the day. Distances are short, but trips often take longer than expected because of the hilly terrain. Drivers can be mavericks – overtaking dangerously on a turn is commonplace.

Taxis are also available and not super expensive, although we didn’t use them.

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MONEY:

Everything was significantly cheaper than in the UK – even in popular places you never pay more than 10€ for a meal including drinks.

Kosovo uses the Euro, Macedonia has the Denar and Albania uses the Lek. Lek and Denars can only be exchanged in the country, but we had no issues with that.

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FOOD:

We did some research in advance, but it was easy enough to find veggie options and ask for vegan versions by removing some ingredients. Most people speak English enough to understand simple instructions like ‘no cheese’.

Yummy salads are available everywhere, as are pizzas. Portions are always generous. Fruit and veg are usually very fresh and delicious – as is the local wine.

Drinks aren’t always listed on the menu, but most places will serve the usual drinks (including plenty of coffee options).

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COOL BARS AND SUNNY DAYS: A day in Tirana

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We arrived in Tirana tired from a long bus journey, but the city was quickly appealing. Interesting architecture, busy cafes and loads of interesting places quickly piqued our interest.

Tirana’s town centre is pretty and easily covered on foot. Stop at one of the many cafes, or join the locals at the Great Park of Tirana. We were lucky to stay around Blloku, a cool neighbourhood full of nice bars, which is the hotspot for Tirana’s nightlife.

Bunk’art2: a museum set in a bunker with displays about Albania’s recent history. Worth a visit. Tickets for  500 Lek.

Salt: we went to Salt because they had some vegan options on the menu, but this place was just perfect. Located on a street full of cool bars and restaurants, Salt is a stunning place with great service and delicious food. Lunch for two including drinks and tip for 2,500 Lek. Highly recommended!

Brauhaus: a local brewery where you can have a beer right next to the brewery tanks. Two beers and tip for 320 Lek.

Spaghetti Western: one of the many places around Blloku, serving Tex-Mex food. Dinner for two including drinks and tip for 1,500 Lek.

Charl’s: a large bar with a cool decor. Beers for 350 Lek.

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HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: we took the bus from Ohrid. The journey takes 5h30 and buses leave at 9am, but they are usually late. Tickets cost 700 MKD. The bus journey does a massive detour, so a taxi for €60 is probably a better option, as it would take half the time. There are flights from London too.
  • Stay: we stayed at Hotel Hermes which is a comfortable hotel in a great location. Efficient service and yummy breakfast.

AMPLE SQUARES AND SUNNY LAKES: Exploring Ohrid and Skopje in Macedonia

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We took the bus from Prizren and headed to Macedonia, where we arrived at the capital.

SKOPJE

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Skopje is a monumental city, full of statues and landmarks. You can explore the grand squares and walk by the river to get some photos.

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  • Old Bazaar: the old part of Skopje is a great place to wander around. The narrow roads and local shops are a nice contrast to the newer part of the city.
  • Star Grad Brewery: this popular bar is a great place to try some local beer and nibbles (with lots of veggie options). Lunch for two with plenty of beers for 1,000 MKD.
  • Kolektiv: this is another place serving local beers (from the same brewery). It’s a cool bar at Alexander the Great Square. Drinks and snacks for two including tip for 1,100 MKD.

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HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: we took the bus from Prizren at 9am which took 3h30. Tickets are bought on the bus and cost 9€.
  • Money: you can change money around town and conveniently at the bus station, always with good rates. Macedonia is not as cheap as its neighbour Kosovo, but it’s still much cheaper than London.

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OHRID

Ohrid is the highlight of any trip to Macedonia. Lake Ohrid is massive, and mountains create the impressive backdrop. The town is small, hilly and pretty.

You can spend the day leisurely exploring the narrow streets and stopping for breaks at the many cafes and restaurants.

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Ohrid Old Town is full of houses in traditional architecture and plenty of places to get a good view of the lake. There are many Orthodox churches, and St John Theologian has the most picturesque setting by the lake.

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  • Via Sacra Pizzeria: a popular place in a great location where you can try delicious Macedonian wine. Dinner for two including drinks and tip for 1,200 MKD.
  • Dr Falafel: this is a cheap but friendly place serving a range of veggie falafel dishes. A big plate of falafel, hummus and salad plus a drink for 200 MKD.

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HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: Buses leave hourly from Skopje station, and tickets can be booked in advance at the station. The trip takes 3h30 and tickets cost 500 MKD.
  • Stay: We stayed at Villa Kale, which had a great location and great views over the lake.

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DELICIOUS FOOD AND SCENIC VIEWS: Three days in Kosovo

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A few years ago we went to Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Serbia – so it was time to continue our adventure in the Balkans! We started our trip in in Kosovo, visiting Prishtina and Prizren.

PRISTINA

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Prishtina, the capital of Kosovo, doesn’t have that much to offer, but it’s worth exploring for a day. There are plenty of cool bars and cafes to lounge about with the locals.

  • Dit’ e Nat’: A relaxed and popular cafe serving veggie food. Hang out with a cold lemonade and a yummy sandwich (sandwiches from 3€).
  • Baba Ganoush Meze: This cool Middle-Eastern restaurant is hidden away in a little alley, but it’s definitely worth finding. Amazing food and very cheap – dinner for two including drinks and tip for 15€.
  • Stay: We stayed at Stay OK, which was a bit off the city centre but still walking distance of everything. Big rooms and friendly service.
  • Go: Wizzair has direct flights from London to Prishtina. The flight takes about 3h.

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PRIZREN

Prizren is a pretty little town with a nice historical centre. The narrow cobbled street are full of cool cafes and restaurants. On a Sunday the streets are busy with locals meeting for coffee and cooling down with an ice cream.

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Prizren Fortress: Overlooking the town centre, Prizren Fortress (free to get in) is a nice place to watch the sunset and get great views over the town. It’s a 20-minute walk up the hill, or take the scenic route through the mountain (takes one hour).

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  • Marashi: A beautiful restaurant overlooking the river, with a large terrasse for a meal al fresco (lunch for two including drinks and tip for 12€).
  • Ego: A nice restaurant by the main square, serving a good selection of Italian dishes. Dinner for two including drinks and tip for 13.50€.
  • BarAca: A cool bar with nice decor and fun music (drinks from 3€).
  • Ambient: A nice restaurant overlooking the river. Dinner for two including drinks and tip for 10€.

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How to do it:

  • Go: We took the bus from Prishtina. The trip takes about two hours and tickets can be bought directly on the bus for 4€.
  • Stay: We stayed at Edi Imperial, which was very well-located and served a generous breakfast.

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CRAFT BEER AND FREEZING TEMPERATURES: A weekend in Riga

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We went to Riga on a quick break in mid-March and were greeted with subzero temperatures! Still it was a nice place for a weekend away and we had fun exploring. The city has lots of really cool bars and restaurants and a great craft beer scene.

These are our favourite places:

Central Market

This market is one of the most popular attractions in Riga and it’s definitely worth a visit. There are lots of fruit and vegetable stalls selling all sorts of local produce including mountains of pickles.

Inside the market we found Labietis, a local brewery offering lots of delicious beers. You can have a drink on the spot or fill a litre bottle to take home.

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Old Town

Riga’s Old Town is small but pretty, and you can spend some time looking at the nice architecture or taking a walk by the river. It’s the best area to stay as everything is within walking distance.

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Skyline Bar

A popular place for brunch and cocktails, this bar at the Radisson has great views over the city and it’s a great place to chill for a couple of hours. A bit pricey for Riga standards but definitely worth it (2 drinks and tip for 15€).

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Folkklubs ALA Pagrabs

This huge and popular underground bar has a great selection of local beers and other drinks. It is very cheap – even more at happy hour when you can get a beer for just 1.80€.

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Fat Pumpkin

This veggie restaurant serving delicious food and plenty of vegan cakes is a great find (dinner for two including dessert and tip for 42€).

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Miit Coffee

This is a nice veggie place. Their brunch costs 9.50€ and it includes lots of delicious salads and fruit.

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Indian Raja

The veggie place we were going to was closed, so we ended up at Indian Raja. This restaurant served lots of yummy food, including a delicious naan bread filled with potatoes (dinner for 2 including drinks and tip for 35€).

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CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE BY TRAIN: How to plan your itinerary

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It’s very easy and convenient to travel around Central and Eastern Europe by train. The distances are generally not very big and the trains are good and run on time.

Itinerary planning:

We visited Munich, Prague, Brno, Vienna and Budapest. All of them were easy to reach and had good connections.

Another alternative would be to head towards Poland instead, or start out in Romania.

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Booking tickets:

As ever, Seat 61 had all the best tips for booking everything online. The booking process in the various sites was easy and tickets very cheap – the key thing for international trips from Germany is to buy the ticket from the website of the other country you’re visiting: for instance, tickets for the same train from Munich to Prague were much more expensive on Bahn.de than via the Czech website.

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Roadworks:

A few weeks before our trip, I got an email informing of changes to train times and taking a bus replacement for one of the legs of our trip. The email was in Czech, but other than that things went as planned and we didn’t have any issues.

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On the trains:

All the trains we took were punctual, well-equipped and generally very good. Express trains usually had a good cafe on board and served a good range of snacks and drinks.

COOL BARS AND STREET ART: Yet another break in Budapest

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This was my fourth time in Budapest and the city never disappoints!

After dropping our bags in our flat, we headed out for a late lunch. The area around Lizst Ferenc Ter has lots of cools places, but we stopped at Menza, an old favourite (lunch for three including drinks and tip for 12000 HUF).

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We then explored the area around Andrassy Utca and Kiraly Utca, stopping at the Opera House and checking out the many cool bars around before heading back to our flat for the evening.

In the morning we visited the Central Market Hall. There you can buy local produce, souvenirs and paprika in all its forms. It’s a great place to visit and to stock up if you’re self-catering.

We then took the bus to the other side of the river to explore the area around Buda Castle and the citadel for a bit, although it was cold and a bit rainy.

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We had lunch at the beautiful Mazel Tov (lunch for four including drinks and tip for 12000 HUF). They serve lots of yummy Middle Eastern food with plenty of veggie options.

In the evening we stopped at Szimpla, the most famous of Budapest’s ruin bars for a drink (drinks for four for 3500 HUF) before going home to cook the food we’d bought at the market earlier in the day.

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Thermal baths are very popular in Budapest, and as usual we headed to Szechenyi. This is a massive complex of indoor and outdoor thermal pools, and a nice way of spending a few relaxing hours (weekend day ticket for 5000 HUF).

For lunch we visited Porto di Pest, a nice but a bit expensive place in Liszt Ferenc Ter (lunch for four including drinks and tip for 20000 HUF).

After stopping at our flat for a bit, we met my local friend for drinks and ended the night at Kuplung, which served nice but dodgy cocktails (two drinks for 1200 HUF).

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Our last full day in Budapest was nice and sunny, so we walked to the Shoes on the Danube Bank, a memorial to victims of World War II. We then walked all the way back to Jonas, a craft brewery with nice views over the river (four beers for 3000 HUF).

To finish the trip in style, we had an early dinner at Pomo D’Oro, an upscale Italian restaurant serving delicious pasta and yummy desserts (meal for three including drinks and tip for 24000 HUF).

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HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: We took the train from Vienna (takes about 2h30), but there are plenty of flights from London. Budapest is also a great option for the end of an Eastern Europe trip as it has good connections with the whole region.
  • Stay: We stayed at this fancy place in Kiraly Utca, which was both a great place and the perfect location. Budapest has lots of good accommodation options, so it’s easy to find a good alternative.
  • Money: Budapest is very cheap and even upscale places are affordable in comparison to London prices. Exchange places are easily available and generally the rates are very good as there’s lots of competition.

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