FRESH LEMONADE AND SUNNY DAYS: Exploring chilled Bulgaria

Bulgaria was one of the few European countries still left on our list, so we decided to check it out. We spent a few very hot days exploring beautiful Plovdiv and Sofia.

PLOVDIV

The Old Town is picturesque. The cobblestone streets and traditional architecture are the perfect setting for plenty of cafés, shops and street art. You can explore the Roman ruins and traditional houses and cool down with a glass of homemade lemonade.

  • Veggic: a vegan restaurant and café serving great variety of salads, warm dishes and desert. We even came back again the next day! Dinner for two including drinks and desert for 36 lev.
  • Central Perk: a popular Friends-themed café where you can cool down with a drink alfresco. Drinks and snacks for two including tip for 25 lev.
  • Afreddo: a popular ice cream shop with plenty of flavours and clearly labelled vegan options. Two scoops for 3 lev.

Stay: we stayed at Photo House, a traditional Bulgarian restaurant with ample rooms and great location. We paid 176 lev for two nights.

Go: there aren’t many flights to Plovdiv, so the best option is to fly to Sofia, take the metro to the Central Station then get a bus to Plovdiv. The trip takes about 2h20 and tickets cost 14 lev. Buses leave every hour or so and times are available here. From Plovdiv to Sofia, buses depart from the bus station located by the central train station throughout the afternoon. Tickets for 9.50 lev can be bought here or at the Karats kiosk by the train station.

SOFIA

We only had one afternoon in Sofia, but we covered plenty of ground. We spent a few hours exploring the city centre (which is easy to cover on foot).

We visited the Central Market, the impressive cathedral St Alexander Nevsky and the busy Boulevard Vitosha, where locals enjoyed the good weather in cool cafés. Tsar Ivan Shishman Street is full of nice shops and bars, so we spent some time wandering around.

  • Restaurant Kring: a self-service restaurant with a great selection of mostly vegan dishes. 100g for 1 lev.
  • Sun Moon: a veggie restaurant and bakery with plenty of delicious options. Lunch for two including drinks and tip for 28 lev.

Stay: we stayed at Hotel Lion Sofia, which was centrally located close to the bus station.

Transportation: Sofia is easily covered on foot, but the metro is easy to navigate and covers many of the main areas. Tickets for 1.40 lev.

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BEAUTIFUL ARCHITECTURE AND CHEAP FOOD: Chasing gnomes in Wroclaw

Wroclaw is a small but beautiful city in Poland. The old town centre is picturesque, and you can spend a few hours wandering around and spotting the hundreds of bronze gnome statues scattered all over the town.

There are plenty of things to do, including many cool restaurants and bars, so it’s a good option for a long weekend.

To the north of the old town there are a few islands in the river Oder where you can visit local churches and museums or walk by the scenic promenade.

  • Szczytnicki Park is a large park with some famous local attractions. It is a bit far from the city centre but the walk there is interesting.
  • Central Market: a large market with a good selection of fruit and veg and other local produce.
  • Transport: it is easy to walk everywhere on foot, but the city is covered by a good network of trams which are very convenient. You can buy tickets on board with a debit or credit card. Tickets for 3.40zl.

As ever, we also checked out many vegan places:

  • Vega: a vegan restaurant at the heart of Market Square serving a great selection of Polish dishes. The pierogi were great! Lunch for two including drinks for 47zl.
  • Mihiderka: a place with several locations across Poland serving delicious burgers and many other vegan dishes. Lunch for two including drinks and tip for 68zl.
  • Krowarzywa: a cool vegan burger place serving lots of delicious combos. Lunch for two including drinks for 70zl.
  • Ahimsa: a Middle Eastern and Asian vegan restaurant with a good varied selection. Dinner for two for 68zl.
  • 4Hops: a bike-themed craft beer bar with a large selection of beers on tap. A pint for 12-17zl.

DELICIOUS FOOD AND LOCAL WINE: A weekend in Moldova

We flew into Chisinau not really knowing what to expect, and we were pleasantly surprised! The city doesn’t have many highlights, but there are some great restaurants and bars around.

For dinner we went to Gastrobar, a great place serving modern Middle Eastern cuisine, with plenty of veggie options. Make sure to reserve a table in advance. Dinner for two including drinks and tip for 1,000MDL.

We also visited Propaganda, a popular restaurant with quirky decor serving yummy food. A light dinner for two including drinks and top for 400MDL.

  • Wine: Moldovan wine is amazing and very cheap! Most restaurants and bars have a great wine list and you can find a good selection in supermarkets too.
  • Stay: We stayed in one of these apartments. It was spotless and ideally located.

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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