A round up of our first month backpacking! The highs, lows and unforgettable moments!

It is a little over a month since we started off on what was a dream for a long time, I feel that I need to write something to keep mostly our family and freinds updated (but hopefully our followers and readers too) of our goings on. One of the things I realised early on was that as much as the blog works in having moved on from more of a diary to a professional travel blog we have lost that ability to really relay the here and now on here. You can check up on our facebook and Instagram pages for daily updates! This means that we are now in Montenegro, our 6th country on this trip and yet our most recent posts are still about Italy. We have around 16 scheduled to come out every other day but even if we did one everyday we still wouldn’t be up to date anytime soon, plus having loads scheduled gives us some backup incase we end up without WIFI for a week or so! So this is just a bit of an update on our first month and we will try to keep this up regularly or maybe even do it every fortnight. We’ll see!

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Well, where to start. As you can imagine a lot has happened in one month, looking back to these Italy posts coming online at the moment it feels like a lifetime ago already. Time moves very differently when you are travelling and also when you have no schedule or really any place to be. It can be a little confusing and although we did this to escape routine I can see why a little is needed. We have been able to keep on pretty well with the blog and have been quite disciplined with it, but to be honest we might have to implement some kind of rough schedule to just keep up with everything and make sure we get out and make the most of where we are too.

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Lake Bohinj, Slovenia

So here we go. Some rough stats to start with:

Since 9th April 2016 (Today is 17th May) we have:

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 20.58.52

Visited 6 countries: Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro.

We have travelled roughly 95 hours and 24mins on Planes, Trains, Buses, Cable Cars, Canoes, Rafts, Coaches, Mini Buses, taxis, metros, trams, bikes, ferries, a jeep and some random Italian guys car! And countless hours walking too!

Miles wise we have covered roughly: 2,166.6 Miles, but this doesn’t include the initial flight from Manchester to Milan and only includes major towns and cities and not the miles done by foot, local public transport, bikes and other random methods of transport used! The real total will be a fair bit more, but that would be impossible to calculate!

We have stayed in 17 different beds and the most time in one place has been 4 nights in Sarajevo at the Travellers Home Hostel. We extended our stay there we loved it so much

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What we’ve done in brief and some highlights:

There have already been so many. It’s crazy to look back on all that we have done so far and think about the fact that it has only been 6 weeks. I think the first real highlight was seeing the Lago Di Carezza in the Dolomites. We struggled a bit to see the region properly whilst backpacking but getting to this lake was amazing. It was like what we dreamt the place would be like. The jagged and characteristically vertical rocks and the beautiful blue lake below. Wow. It blew us away. Seeing Venice and recreating my photo 22 years later was quite special. I was unsure whether it was worth revisiting but it really was. Even when there are tourists everywhere it is still an amazing place and I’m glad Shorty got to see it. 

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Otherwise in Italy it was amazing to go the the legendary San Siro in Milan, we didn’t fall in love with the city but we enjoyed our time here. We did really love the area around Lake Como though, we spent a wonderful day biking around the lake in the sun. The water here is beautiful and the surrounding mountains and classy towns make it somewhere very special. There are so many things to do in Italy that it is somewhere we really must come back to and see more of! 

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Slovenia as a whole was a highlight. What an amazing country, couchsurfing here turned out to be an amazing experience that we learnt so much from. The capital Ljubljana is also one of the best places we have been. So green and really fosters creativity too.

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Over in Bled we had a wonderful time too and managed to see the stunning lake in the warm spring sun before the snow came. It was cool to see both and we still managed to get out canyoning too. That was a really fun day and also great for me to see where my knee is at. It wasn’t the hardest but it was fun and gave me a lot of confidence in how my knee has healed and its strength. It was also freezing so we had to wear 7mm wetsuits with gloves and hoods! After the shock of the first jump it was on though. Also near Bled we visited Vintgar Gorge, a huge canyon carved by the most amazing clear emerald river you could ever imagine. I’ve never seen water so beautiful in all my life and in this 200ft high canyon too was just breathtaking. Really just something else.

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Moving on from there the next highlight was Plitvice Lakes in Croatia. It looked like it was going to be a wash out as it literally rained all day. I was pretty disappointed at first as the lower walkways were shut and the visibility from the top was poor. We decided to jump the barrier onto the out of bounds section and it turned out to be the most amazing experience. We pretty much had the place to ourselves and it really is like something from another world in here. It almost felt like something from a theme park it was so miraculous it was hard to believe it was real. It has a kind of Jurassic park feel to it as well. The whole day was amazing and in the end the rain helped to make it even better.

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Also in Croatia walking the Dubrovnik walls was a highlight. It took a little while to warm to the city if we are honest even though we had wanted to visit for a long time. Partly maybe because of the weather when we first arrived. But on the walls we really saw how stunning a place it is and got to see the shimmering blue sea in all its glory. We nearly didn’t go up here because of the price. But I sneaked through with Shorty’s student card too and we are so glad we did. The island of Lokrum just off Dubrovnik was also pretty amazing. It was like a totally wild place just a short ferry away from bustling Dubrovnik. There were wild peacocks roaming the island and many amazing rocky beaches. The water was just an amazing colour too.

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Next it was Bosnia and we were in for a real surprise here. Initially a bit apprehensive and unsure we instantly fell in love with it. It now has to be a firm favourite of ours out of every country we have visited. First was Mostar and the combination of cultures got us, the Turkish bazaars, the minarets of the mosques and call to prayer, the Ottoman architecture and of course the bridge jumpers. To spend my 28th birthday here and have a lovely meal after a day in 27c heat was perfect. We also went on a quite moving tour given to us by a man who had been a refugee during the war and had had a dream about returning home. He showed us around the many ruins of the city and showed us the significant places during the siege. He also really explained to us what the war was about, the different sides and how it left the country. It really was very informative but also crazy to see how the city was left. We then explored the inside of the sniper tower ourselves! That was amazing and the views and what they meant pretty mad.

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From Mostar was Sarajevo and again we were unsure what we would find here. The names itself is enough to put people off and even if you try not to you have preconceptions. Well how wrong we were. Sarajevo is now firmly one of my favourite cities in the world. It’s hard to describe why but it just has this amazing vibe. It is similar to Mostar in many ways but more intense where Mostar was amazing because of its compactness. Sarajevo’s heart is a bustling network of old bazaars and ancient mosques. Around the Ottoman heart are Austro-Hungarian buildings and then modern city streets. It’s a real mix that just works amazingly. We also met some great people at the hostel here who we really made friends with. Everyone in the hostel was amazing and it kind of felt like home. You could go into the kitchen and make some food and have a chat with some people. Sit in reception and have some mad conversations about the realities of Bosnia with the guys who worked there. That was so eye opening. Or like one night we taking into the early hours about football with an Aussie called Luke. It was pretty much perfect and we were all there for the same time. We even extended a couple of nights too. This is what hostels should be like and why they are good fun and so much better than hotels. A group of us from the hostel (Leo, Emma and Paul) went walking up to the abandoned bobsleigh track from the 1984 olympics too. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time and despite the steep hike up there (with no provisions!!) we made it. It was pretty amazing seeing something like that. The history of the Olympics and the war up here. Thankfully there were no muggers or packs of wild dogs!! We also saw the spot where Franz Ferdinand was shot in Sarajevo. The history and repercussion of what happened there are almost too much to take in when you are just on an unassuming street corner! It made me think of my uncle who died in the First World War. How I don’t think he could ever imagine his future niece ever seeing such a place and how it affected his life.

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From here was Belgrade in Serbia. It had been sold to us as a grey and non-discript capital with not much to offer. We were actually pleasantly surprised then when it had some amazing old buildings and the wonderful bohemian district. There was a lot to see here from the old fortress above the city that give it its name: Belgrade/ Beograd means White City! To the NATO bombed buildings that have stood there since 1999, as crumbling remnants of the wars that ravaged this whole area. Then there was the Museum of Yugoslavia and Tito’s mausoleum that show the communist history of the country. This was something that really interested me and I really enjoyed seeing this, especially seeing as there was a design exhibition on of soviet posters. Serbia was also far less scary than we imagined and we would have liked to have seen more but the hostels in Uzice were all fully booked out (there are only 2) for a good week so we had to move on. 

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After Belgrade came Montenegro. We didn’t really know what to expect from here, would it be like Serbia seeing as they were aligned for so long? Well, it feels a million miles away from there to be honest, it is hard to imagine both of these countries as one. It felt strange as Kotor really does have a lot of elements of Dubrovnik and having gone inland quite far we almost felt like we had come back on ourselves. Which seeing as it took a combined 11 hours from Dubrovnik over to Belgrade and then we took an overnight bus from Belgrade to Kotor for 12 hours we kind of had! That was a pretty horrific journey by the way, but at the same time kind of fun as it feels like proper travel! Kotor is lovely though and Montenegro feels much more Mediterranean than Serbia and Bosnia, much like Croatia does. The accent also feels a little softer but I am not sure if that is just a combination of the Serbs being pretty harsh and us getting really used to the slavic languages! We really loved Montenegro however and for such a small country it has a lot to offer.

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The coast is stunning and also very mountainous, Kotor is set down a fjord and the hike up the old city walls is pretty stunning. We also headed over to a village called Perast just down the bay a little. It has the most amazing islands in the bay with churches on them and the water was just too turquoise to resist. We went for a slightly chilly dip in the sea just here and it was pretty awesome! We then headed into the mountains in the north of the country for some White Water Rafting in the Tara canyon, the second deepest canyon in the world and really ruggedly beautiful. The river was actually pretty wild, we expected it to be a bit tame compared to Switzerland but it was probably crazier as the instruction we had was much more vague and instead of jumping inside the raft on the huge rapids we stayed on the outside! A guy even fell in! It was probably one of the best things we have ever done though and we also got to stop off at a few places along the way to take in the amazing views too.

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Favourite places

Venice, Ljubljana, Bled, Plitvice lakes, Dubrovnik, Mostar, Sarajevo, kotor.

If we had to pick the best out of all of these. It would have to be Sarajevo! We just totally fell in love with it and alongside meeting some awesome people and also learning so much about the country itself from the locals we met. There is something about it that we just loved straight away and it is just so different than what we expected also. 

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What we loved so far

It hasn’t been exactly what we expected but we have really loved the freedom that long term travel gives you. We have on a few occasions decided to stay for a few days or leave early, gone to places we hadn’t planned or just generally been able to be a bit more spontaneous. We have also been able to get under the skin of places a lot more, even if we haven’t stayed all that long for some reason backpacking brings you closer to people. Locals, other travellers, you just connect a lot more, get talking and learn about the place and find out new things you never knew. I think part of the reason we have loved certain places so much has been that connection rather than just passing though.

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Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

The late nights in the hostel in Sarajevo talking about the real flag of Bosnia, the ultras of the local teams and how the rivalry is based on ethnicity will always stay with me. Even the long journeys have been enjoyable, the travel overland you see so much, I wish I could stop here and there and take photos of it all, most of it will just be flashes of things that seem mundane but really paint a picture of a new place and culture. I have also loved having my preconceptions blown out of the water, I try to travel with an open mind and think I am an open minded person in general, but sometimes you can’t help but have an image of a place in the back of your mind, to that these places are just normal in many ways is so cool. It kind of makes me want to shout back home, hey, these places and these people are just like you. People in Serbia for example don’t want to be in the EU, they don’t want the Euro and the last thing they want is to leave the country they are so proud of to take jobs or benefits in the UK!

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Canyoning in Bohinj

Low points

There haven’t been that many to be honest, overall we have never for one minute regretted setting off on this crazy adventure and all the things we had to do to put it in place. There have been times that have been not so ideal though and really as crappy as that has been they are all part of the experience and I think that life should be about extremes, that is where we are truly alive, when we are really feeling things.

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Snow in Bled

The first night was probably one of the worst, I was so nervous and just a bit freaked out also because it was a year to the day we lost a good friend, so it was all a bit emotional. We were tired and drained and got to the hostel and it was just the worst place ever, not even just less than ideal, it was awful!! We spent the night searching for another hostel for the day after instead of staying there for the other night! The weather also hasn’t been the best, we have had some nice days so we can’t complain but it has been a little colder than we expected and that stopped us seeing and doing a few things that we wanted to do in both the Dolomites and Bled. There have been days too where we have just been so tired, long bus journeys, sleeping in dorms (strangely few rooms in this region have curtains) and carrying our bags endlessly searching for our hostel! We almost had to sleep rough in Ljubljana on the first night before we met our hosts as we got lost and it ended up 1:30am and the hostel was closed up for the night! If it wasn’t for a Brazilian guy who heard our knocking then we wouldn’t have got in our room! We also turned up in Sarajevo not even knowing the name of our hostel, that was stupid really but as time goes on you get a lot more lax. There have been a few times where we haven’t even known where we would be, country, city or hostel, the day before and have just made a decision on the day. But that is a cool thing really. Most of the low point have been accommodation related, the scary place covered in Taxidermy in Bohinj in the middle of nowhere Shorty booked, I “slept” with the light on! Then the first night in Sarajevo in what can only be described as a pretend hostel in someone’s weird basement! So glad we moved to Travellers Home…best hostel ever! On those days we really miss Dook and wonder why we are here in this weird place, in the pissing rain and feeling shattered rather than being with him!

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Hiking in The Dolomites

Being veggie has been a bit of a challenge too, the further on we have gone the more meat based the food has become and also they seem to treat animals worse too. I’ve seen a few things that are a little upsetting and it is hard not to feel really angry, it might be a different culture but I still feel people should not be like this with animals. As a result we have ended up eating way too many pizzas but generally I think we have lost weight due to all the walking and sometimes not being able to find anything proper to eat! We have pretty much only cooked pasta too for ourselves but as long as it is cheap and filling I am fine with that!

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The Kotor Fjord

Over all how we feel 

Overall we love it, life is so strange and unpredictable, just what we were searching for. Different countries, experiences and discoveries everyday. Often you don’t know what day it is, you don’t know where you will be in a few days, it’s all open ended and that freedom is something so liberating. Keeping up with the blog has been a little more stressful that expected, the beauty of travel is being able to do what you want and not have a schedule, but that is also what makes it hard to do things regularly. We are having to travel kind of fast because of money and that doesn’t help. It is hard to feel settled but we are pretty used to waking up in different places, at first I felt quite disoriented being in maybe a room for one or two nights and then being somewhere else. I think ideally we would like to do it where we spend a week in each place and we can plan out days to go out and days to stay in and work/ chill/ recharge. Maybe once we get to Asia/ are making a more constant income off the blog we can do this a bit more. But all in all we are loving it! We miss home and miss Dook, some days more than others, but in general it isn’t as bad as I expected but skypeing every week helps and knowing how much my mum and dad love him and are looking after him. 🙂

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After rafting in the Tara Canyon

Realisations/ lessons learnt/ what we need to improve!

First lesson was accommodation, don’t just go for the cheapest and make sure you check the reviews…this one is mostly on Shorty! Also not to move too much, we were in 3 different places in Milan and it was exhausting! We overspent in the first few weeks, it was hard to get out of holiday mode and into long term travel mode! That was to be expected to be fair and Italy is an expensive country. We have changed as we have gone on, we cook more, do paid for things much less and also make sure to use our blog more: as in, contact as many places to work with them as we can! This is how we could afford to go rafting and also how we have been able to fund a few other things too! We also have been making an effort to be more social, it is hard when you are a couple sometimes as people think you just want to be left alone, but we do feel more confident for it and really do enjoy talking to new people…we also need to avoid party hostels (again, Shorty needs to read the description properly), because they are full of uninteresting idiots who just want to drink and not see any culture!

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Smarna Gora, just outside of Ljubljana. A small mountain all the locals hike!

What we have planned for this next month?!

As I am writing this we have just arrived in Albania…I’ve not included it in our stats, that’s for the next update! We are not 100% sure which countries will be this month or next but it will definitely be Macedonia next and then Kosovo, Romania, Moldova and Bulgaria. We might just get into Ukraine by the time we write our next round up, but I am not sure at all. It depends how much we like each place! We are also planning on staying for a week somewhere, maybe Varna, to just chill out on the beach and recharge before setting off again! The next few countries are places we don’t know all that much about and places few people visit, especially from back home, so it is pretty exciting and it is these places why we really wanted to do this route. To see what is out there in the far corner of our continent!

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The sniper tower in Mostar

Sorry if it is a long one! This is supposed to be mostly for friends and family to keep them updated as our blog posts are a little behind from where we actually are!

If you want more regular updates be sure to check out our facebook page: www.facebook.com/Hilditchshortexplore as we will be uploading photos more often and shorter updates as to where we are. We also update Instagram: www.instagram.com/the_roaming_renegades/ daily too. Keep an eye out in the next few weeks for more detailed posts about the places mentioned here!

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If you want to read more then here are some links about the places covered in this post:

Italy:

Cycling around Como / Lago Di Carezza / Round up of Italy Venice on a budget / Guide to Milan / Exploring the San Siro / Bolzano: The Italian city with Austrian flair! / The earth pyramids of Bolzano / Hiking in Badia / Touring Venice by the water / Cheap things to do in Milan / brera District of Milan / 

Slovenia:

Canoe through Ljubljana / Hiking Smarna Gora, The Local Ljubljana mountain! / Wonderful Ljubljana / Couchsurfing in Ljubljana / Why Slovenia is the most underrated country in Europe / Bled vs Bohinj

Croatia:

Exploring the otherworldly Plitvice Lakes / A guide to Dubrovnik / Dubrovnik city walls / Kings Landing / Lokrum

Bosnia:

Mostar scars / Mostar bridge divers /  A guide to Mostar / Sarajevo tunnels / Guide to Sarajevo / abandoned Sarajevo bobsleigh track / Bosnia: East meets West

Serbia:

A guide to Belgrade: The white city of Serbia / Reflections on visiting Serbia / The remnants of Yugoslavia in Belgrade.

Montenegro:

A guide to Kotor / Walking the ancient city walls of Kotor / Our wild white water rafting adventure through the Tara Gorge /  The beautiful village and its floating churches set in the fjord of the kotor bay

Post from our trip are under the following link:

UK TO NZ

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Nicola Hilditch-Short

Nic is one half of the Roaming Renegades, a passionate traveller, climber, adventurer, photographer and artist who has a B.A in Fine Art and M.A in Design & Art Direction.