So, we greet you from month 3 of our backpacking trip. Month 3 and you are still in Europe you might ask! Well yes and no really! We actually ended up taking a 3 week detour to Turkey to see family, two weeks of that was technically in Asia! But the 3 month time scale we put on this leg of the trip has well and truly gone out of the window, but who cares! We will be finishing our current European leg officially now on the 2nd of August, but the extra time has been spent creating some amazing memories. We won’t quite be finished with Europe after this time, we still have a few countries a few countries to visit, but we will have visited that vast majority of our home continent (and the cheapest parts too) so we will instead be off to Asia! (finally!)
As I mentioned in the earlier posts, these are mostly for family, freinds and those who like to follow more closely what we are up to. We will be doing proper write ups, reviews and guides to all these places. But the blog is a little behind our current position, so these round ups are kind of like a rambling preview!
Read about our first month here:
And here’s our second month:
Where we’ve been this month:
Bulgaria, Turkey, Romania, Moldova
Totaliser of Miles travelled and transport used:
Visited 13 countries: Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Turkey, Romania, Moldova
We have travelled roughly 268 hours and 4 minutes on Planes, Trains, Buses, Cable Cars, Canoes, Rafts, Coaches, Mini Buses, taxis, metros, trams, bikes, ferries, a jeep and some random Italian guys car, more ferries, Furgons, and also hitch hiked as well as countless hours walking too!
Miles wise we have covered roughly: 7,313.6 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!
This month we added a few new methods of transport to the list, we ended up in the air quite a lot, on a hot air balloon, paragliding and also flying too! We had also ended up in quite a few cars too this month and some horrendously long bus journeys too! We also travelled more this month, just over 4000 miles, than we have in the last 2 months put together! This is mostly because of our huge detour to Turkey where we got around quite a bit and also going on some mad road trips in Bulgaria and Romania and also getting on 2 flights too!
We have stayed in 23 different beds and the most time in one place has been 5 nights in Moreto and Cafetto in Sofia! Or, maybe it was the 2 weeks we stayed at the Blue Hisar in Hisaronu, Turkey! as We had such an amazing time in both places!
Round up of each country:
We ended up spending so much longer in Bulgaria than we had originally intended, but we just had the most amazing time! When we arrived in Sofia it was raining and miserable, the bus station was miles from the city and we were tired from a full day on multiple buses. Our first accommodation was in a rough area too and it took us hours to find food, not the best of starts for Shorty’s 30th country! But it soon turning into one of the most epic couple of weeks ever after we moved over to Moreto and Cafetto, the most fun hostel on the planet and perfect for backpacking!
Here life was pretty laid back and everyone was chilled, it felt like a little family here. We would go out on adventures and come back and watch the football in the living room, make food together and plan the next day! We enjoyed it so much we just kept extending our stay! Sofia itself is a lovely city and we loved being back in quite a large city too after spending a lot of time in smaller towns and cities. There is plenty to explore, the highlight of the city for us has to be the communist monuments, the huge one still towering over the city and also the collection of old Lenin statues and busts in the specially dedicated museum, pretty cool! We also met up with the guys from Travelling Buzz, one of our all time favourite blogs. Me and Maria have been freinds online for a while now and have does guest posts for each other and what have you, so to meet up finally and chat about travelling, Bulgaria and blogging over some traditional veggie food was lovely.
One of the other cool things about Sofia is that it is so close to the mountains, we ended up on a 5 hour hiking tour to a really stunning waterfall on the mountainside. We had intended to summit the peak itself but we thought we would save that for Romania! But it gave me some real confidence in my knee too, I had been a little cautious of long and challenging hikes but we were ahead of the pack the whole way around and it really made me look forward to those we had planned in the next few places whilst backpacking.
We also took some amazing trips out from Sofia with the hostel guys, this was we got to see quite a bit of the country by using the city as a base. The first was out to Rila Monastery, a place we had firmly on our list of sites to visit in this wonderful country. In reality it really did not disappoint, I can safely say this is one of the most stunning and impressive places I have ever been. Decorated in striking patterns and impossible detail whilst being set high up in the mountains, it almost feels unreal, one of the most amazing places we have been backpacking!
To make it even more special we ended up driving into the mountain pass for our lunch, even after visiting the Dolomites and Switzerland this place made my jaw drop. Really somewhere we must return for some climbing action! After that we also hiked up to the Stob pyramids, a little like the ones we say in Bolzano but you could get really close to them and the hike was quite a challenge! Adding these things on to the day just made it even more amazing and more than any organise tour could have ever produced! All we had to pay for was petrol!
Our next adventure was again on a road trip with the guys from the hostel, we were now headed for the Buzludzka monument, an abandoned communist headquarters high in the mountains! If you know us, you will know that this pretty much ticks all the boxes for us: Abandoned, communist and mountains: Sign us up! We had been asking around everywhere how could get up here and everyone told us on public transport it would take forever, well, we were ready for the challenge. Until the amazing people at the hostel just turned around and said hey, we’ll drive you there!
This place is seriously amazing, it is like a space ship on top of a mountain and everything we ever dreamt it would be. There are hammer and sickles, mosaics of leaders and even a huge tower to climb up…after over half an hour climbing up a rusty ladder in the dark the views up here are something else!
Again, to make the trip even better we stopped off at the nearby Shipka monument, a pilgrimage to Bulgarians for its symbolism of their fight for independence. As well as the Shipka cathedral, in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere sits possible the most amazing church we have ever set eyes on, gold domes, beautifully decorated and just perfectly proportioned!
Our Bulgarian adventure didn’t end there, we headed to Plovdiv for a few days too. This place is really quite different to Sofia and in many ways so much more hip. This small city is like the cool sibling to the capital, understated but yet amazing. Of course, you come here to see the Roman ruins, never before have I seen such well preserved and impressive remnants of this era, something really quite special.
But here there is also lots of other things to see, the old Ottoman town is just wonderful to wander around and even getting caught in a thunderstorm didn’t dent our enjoyment of the quaint town. Then there is the hip alternative quarter too, filled with trendy bars, cafes and street art it was right up our alley way.
We even managed to get a bit of climbing in on the rocks that are literally right in the city centre! We ended up staying in the spare room of an old communist apartment block through airbnb, it was a little strange for sure. The apartment was full of ramshackle and half finished self built furniture and it was a little creepy at times. But in the end we had a nice time and shared music stories over some Rakia (this stuff again!)
Bulgaria turned out to be a real highlight of the trip so far and a country we once again fell in love with (I feel that maybe we are becoming country slags we say this that often!)
See the Bulgaria posts here:
Now on to Turkey, or should I saw back to Turkey! A country we have visited countless times before, especially shorty who would go almost every year as a child.
This time is was firstly to Istanbul, a place we had dreamt of for years but never got around to visiting, we had 5 amazing days here in the heart of one of the worlds great and oldest cities. Seeing the Blue Mosque, sailing across the Bosphorus and exploring the Grand Bazaar really were just as special as we might have imagined, what a place to go backpacking!
I had to wear full Muslim dress in the Blue Mosque, and it was almost 40c, but it just made the experience that much more wonderful in all honesty. The nights were spent watching the sunset over the many minarets as their sweet chorus rang out. Istanbul is every bit the crazy, beautiful and sometimes inexplicable city you imagine.
Seeing events unfold before and after our visit just makes them even more heartbreaking, but continuing to visit is another defiance in the face of terrorism and unrest.
After the chaos and oppressive heat of the big city we took a 12hrs overnight bus down to Fethiye and then headed up to the familiar territory of Hisaronu. It felt so strange to be here backpacking, it is a wonderful place, surrounded by mountains and beaches but my god it is touristy. After exploring some of the most off the beaten track locations in Europe, hitch hiking, couch surfing and seeing so much of local life. It was like entering an alternative universe being surrounded by so much English culture and also in a place we knew so well! We came here to rest up though and see Shorty’s dad and step mum who have recently retired and moved out here.
But we didn’t mind being down here really, even after all the tourist stuff it is actually a really beautiful part of the world with stunning mountains and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We took the opportunity to a lot of things here such as hiking up to the top of the historic Kaya ghost town and looking out over the bay below, taking a boat trip and exploring the many hidden islands and beaches as well as swimming with wild turtles!
But the most amazing thing we did was to paraglide off the 6,500ft mountain here. This is something we had wanted to do for a long time, me 10 years and Shorty 20! To finally do it was just as amazing as we had dreamt, the view of the stunning blue lagoon from thousands of feet up is just almost too much for words.
But if we are honest, we did spend a lot of time just recharging our batteries, relaxing by the pool, hanging out in the bars and playing pool as well as catching up with a fair few people. it was just nice to be in one spot for a while too! Thank you so much to Stephen and Jackie too for putting us up and looking after us, I think we needed that after 2 months on the road!
Not content with just sitting back for two weeks and casually throwing ourselves off mountains we decided to take a little trip within a holidays within a trip (tripception here!) to Cappadocia. We had always dreamt of visiting here and alongside Istanbul it was top of our bucket list in Turkey. Seeing as it is the trip for ticking off many things from that list we went for it! We were so fortunate to be able to work with the amazing people at Voyager Balloons too on a ride, it really is times like this when we have to pinch ourselves to see what we have built here with our blog!
The whole time here was like a dream, we stayed overnight in a cave hostel, sleeping in one of the ancient carved out caves! We explored the beautiful city of Goreme and the village of Uchisar just down the road, these places are the most surreal we have ever seen. Huge rock formations rise out of the ground to create the most magical landscape you could ever imagine, each section different to the last and just as beautiful. If that wasn’t enough many of these huge turret like formations have carved out caves within them, some dating back over 10,000 years and still occupied. We even got to visit one!
Walking down the pigeon valley too was one of the most memorial hikes we have done, completely alone and in a world that felt like it belonged on another planet. This region has to be top of anyones bucket list, it seriously is like nothing I have ever seen or experienced in my life before. Soaring above in a hot air balloon was just the icing on the cake, I really like the luckiest person on earth that this is now what I call a job! This is what I put all that work in for! Once in a lifetime experiences like this, how do you even begin to describe! Just phenomenal and so peaceful too.
I expected it to be a little nerve-wracking but it really was just the most perfect day! Flying down into the valleys and then up to 1000m high! insane! We then did a tour of the areas a little further afield including the underground city and the oasis like Ihara valley. Being in the desert for a few days though made returning to the beach, even after another arduous 13hr bus, a bit of a relief!
What can we say about Turkey really, if we didn’t already love her we now well and truly have fallen head over heels. It is just such a diverse country with some of the most amazing things to see and do. So wide reaching, full of culture, adventure and other worldly landscapes. It really is such a shame to see what is going on politically over there with the “coup” and the attacks. The people are so freindly and to see them suffering breaks our hearts. But we will be returning for sure, maybe even this year on our way out to Asia, well we do have our own bedroom over there now! Stay safe Turkey xx
See the Turkey posts here:
Crossing the Bosphorus / Is Turkey safe? / Snorkling with turtles in the med! / Paragliding off the Babadag / Princes Islands of Istanbul / Guide to Istanbul / The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia / Guide to Cappadocia / Guide to Fethiye / Hot air balloon over Cappadocia
Heading to Romania after almost 3 weeks in Turkey was a little strange, we ended up having to take a flight which is something we wanted to avoid. But it would have taken us at least 3 days of continual night buses to make up the ground we had covered and we didn’t really have to time or will do to that! But it was good to just be able to jump straight back in.
We landed in Bucharest back on our original path and ready to make the most of a country we had been looking forward to visiting for a long time. The capital city is such a lovely place to be, really modern and trendy but with some really beautiful old architecture. It has that really cool atmosphere to it these old crumbling cities do, I can’t quite put my finger on it but it just felt like a really happening, creative and open city to be in. I think the lovely Doors hostel we stayed in helped with that too! We met a nice lad called Sean from Adelaide here too who we spent the day with exploring the city, we can’t wait to meet up with him again when we head down under!
Bucharest is a lovely city and we really did enjoy our time there, the parliament building is the second largest administrative building in the world and is absolutely huge. Visiting the interior we needed passports to get it, the decor was a little strange and half of the rooms were really just for show, but it was quite an experience! I also loved the village museum there that they had created, taking traditional houses and buildings from all around Romania that were in danger of being lost and rebuilding them in a huge park here for people to visit. I mostly went for the wooden church! ha ha. But really, Bucharest has an amazing collection of stunning buildings from monasteries, banks and galleries.
But in truth our real love affair with Romania only started when we headed out into the country. We enjoyed Bucharest of course, but we had always wanted to go to Transylvania and it was here that we discovered that Romania is now probably our favourite country on this trip…yes that’s right, it trumps Albania with its combination of stunning landscape, amazing culture, big cities, traditional villages and nice people. In many ways Romania reminded us of Albania.
In the countryside life is very similar, the people live simple lives on little farms, they use mostly horses and carts and rely on marginal public transport. But here there are many more traditional wooden houses than the half built quick concrete ones that seem to be taking over the Albanian countryside, and then when you do get into the larger towns and cities there is a great mix of modernity with wonderful gothic architecture.
It seems to be that to live in somewhere like Brasov is the perfect combination of modern life, where traditions are still upheld, life is affordable and the mountains are only a short bus or train ride away…oh and there’s Dracula too!
In Brasov we had some amazing adventures. We spent a full day hiking up a mountain in the Carpathian’s just a few miles south of the city. The 4 hour hike up to the summit of Baba Mare (2,293m/7,520ft) was absolutely stunning. We were in the real wilderness here, treking firstly through the forrest, past the bear warning signs of course, and then up above the tree line through a rugged and rocky valley. Scrambling up on chains and ropes to the stop, one of the most beautiful places we have ever seen and hardly another person on the route at all.
I was also a great test for my knee and throughout the challenging hike I didn’t feel it at all. We decided to take the cable car down though to avoid it becoming a 7hr hike! We met a lovely Romanian family in the queue who live in Liverpool, their daughter has the funniest scouse accent ever!
We waited for almost an hour for the tiny cable car to come (there are only 2 of them too!) but it was so nice to speak to these lovely people and just another example of how different Romanians and mostly any Eastern European person is compared to the stereotypes that get thrown around, especially with regards immigrants. He had worked had in the UK for 5 years to become a manager of a restaurant and was bringing up a kind and caring couple of kids. They even bought us some corn on the cob when we eventually got down, and even got us on the cable car when we should have been right at the cut off point!
Just the day after and we were in for another adventure of a lifetime. The night before, just as we were getting in from our epic hiking day, a couple of lads in our room. One from Czech republic and the other from Chile asked us if we would like to join them to do the Transfăgărășan highway with them as they were renting a car out. Around the hostel many people, including Sean who we ran into again, had done it and said it was amazing, but renting a car really is the only way. So we got pretty lucky as there was no way we could have rented a car alone!
The day turned out to be a 12hour epic, we were joined by a woman called Jodie from Perth who we really got along with like a house on fire! Off we went, through tiny rural villages and stunning mountainside. We saw the most random things ever on our journey, really, road tripping through Romania is insane! In one village there were stalks who had made these huge nests on all the powerlines, and some of the statues in the villages were borderline creepy!
We even got stuck in this tiny village on the way back as the satnav took us down some little dirt track. The car failed and slid back down as a collection of villagers had gathered outside their houses to watch the silly foreigners fail! There was a lot of hand gestures going on, confused expressions and bewilderment. I honestly don’t think I have laughed so much as I did on this trip, it was just the most amazing day.
Not only was the day a real laugh with some great company…people who we had literally just met that morning and yet we were like old freinds, this is what I love about travelling! But it was just so stunning, random and fortunate too. As we climbed the winding roads up to the highway there began to appear a lot of bikers, and not just people out for a nice ride either, but professionals with support crews…what is going on? After stopping to take a photo of one of the many amazing waterfalls in the area someone told us we had approx 15 mins to get to the highway before it closes for a race, now we had our own race up the mountain! We couldn’t drive all this way for nothing!
In the end it worked out perfectly, we managed to drive up what has been described as the best road in the world just in time and with hardly any traffic on it as a result. Getting to the top the place was buzzing for this cycling event we had stumbled upon. We ended up sitting at the top and watching the race too, it was an added bonus in the end as I love cycling after my Grandad used to take me to races as a kid. It always brings back fond memories to see everyone cheering in their cycling gear and to see the riders flying past, it reminded me of seeing the Tour de France a few years back. Sitting up here and staring at the snake like highway way just so stunning and quite mezmerising, it has to be one of the most impressive things we have seen. It is one of those things you could just sit back looking at for hours!
But there was more adventure to be had! Not content with just seeing the highway we had a look around the stunning Balae lake too and then headed off for the mountains that surround the valley in which they both sit. We set off not really knowing which path to take or how long we would be, just that we wanted to get to the highest peak above the lake! 2 hours of hiking and scrambling later we were at the 2418m Lezerul Caprei peak and the view was just mind blowing! The panorama up here was just something else, from this vantage point you could take in the lake, the highway and the surrounding mountain range (the highest in the country). This is the highest peak we have ever climbed up and the most rewarding view after a hike. Truly a wonderful place and it just sealed our love for this amazing country and this region too!
Not only did we have these amazing adventure days but we explored the lovely Brasov too and headed to the nearby Bran castle…Dracula’s castle! Again it really is a lovely place that lives up the the dreams you have about Transylvanian!
We had the best time here and will 100% be returning. It was made even more special by the people we met too, from bumping into Sean again to making new freinds on a day of adventure to then catching up with Paul, our pal from Newcastle who we met way back in Sarajevo! It is really hard to put into words just how much we loved it, I kind of felt really sad to leave and not all that excited for the next country if I am honest. We will be returning here and who knows, maybe even for an extended period!
See the Romania posts here:
Heading on yet another 11 hour night bus this time to Moldova, we didn’t really know what to expect and really what would be there. For me this was a milestone country of number 40, it really does become a little addictive after a while and as the number grows higher and higher you often become a little blasé. But upon reaching 40 I realised just how lucky I am to have seen so many places and that in all likelihood I will reach 50 this year too. A few years back I could never have imagined that, the average number of countries most Brits have been to is 5!
So anyway, Moldova! We expected it to be pretty similar to Romania but kind of less epic. But it really does have a unique culture of its own and to our surprise many people speak Russian here and the culture is a strange combination of the two, quite like Ukraine in many ways. Chisinau is a strange city, it doesn’t so much have a centre and there isn’t a great deal to do, and yet it is a really nice place to just stroll and relax. We spent the majority of the time in Moldova just chilling out really. Paul from Newcastle was also here and it was his last stop before heading home, so we spent quite a bit of time with him and some other guys from his hostel.
We ended up staying in a really nice little hostel though, a places called IQ where the owner was really into his music and they also had a really quite pet rat too! It was like a little converted house and the owner lived in there too, so it had a nice atmosphere.
One of the things we most wanted to do in Moldova was to visit the breakaway self declared nation of Transnistria that sits between Moldova and Ukraine. This strange little country has its own money, speaks only in Russian and lives by apparent communist rule. It is pretty much protected and funded by Russian too meaning a state of Limbo since it declared independence and fought in the following short war in the early 90’s. There money can also only be used within their country and isn’t recognised anywhere else, pretty crazy.
So we get together a small group of us and headed over to this rogue nation, really quite unsure what we would find and if it is even safe. We had heard rumours of having to bride border guards to leave and all sorts of crazy tales! Upon approaching the border we were all a little nervous is truth be told, we had to queue up at the desk and were given a slip of paper with a 10 hour visa! We had not to loose this or the fun and games would begin upon attempting to leave! Whilst sat on the bus, the oldest bus you have ever seen, the driver got off and left the hand brake off. We began slowly rolling towards to border point before he sprinted back on and steers around the red and green striped poles!
In the end getting in and out was easy and the country not as extreme as made out. But it was pretty cool to see Lenin busts still standing proudly and hammer and Sickles as the main emblem. In that respect it was definitely a step back in time. We had a fun days exploring this weird and wonderful place, seeing tanks on the street, soviet monuments, propaganda and Russian soldiers. It was all a bit surreal but also not really communist, but like make believe!
The highlight was heading to a monastery on a little bus from the capital of Tiraspol. The bus was so hot and full of locals who didn’t speak a word of English, somehow we got there. We ended up getting talking to this monk who took us up the bell tower and told us all about his life.
How we shouldn’t have tattoos (oops) but then Shorty pointed out that he had one on his chest! He then took us to where the monks grow fruit and ended up dropping a pear on shorty’s back, he then had his back washed by this monk! So random! This was whilst we were eating the Elderberries he picked for us. After giving us some holy water…that smelt a big eggy, he took our names and said he would pray for us. Turns out the water was a bit off as we all had bad stomaches the day after!
Moldova overall didn’t really thrill us, the rest of the time we visited a rural monastery and village and just chilled out in the city at the canteen and a cheap bar. The thing with visiting here was that is was just a random place, probably the least visited in our whole trip and nice to just head there and see what life is like.
Posts about Moldova
Highlights backpacking month 3:
Well, this month has been one of the most amazing, getting to tick so many things off the bucket list it almost seems unreal. The Ballooning and Paragliding were by far some of the best things we have ever done in our entire lives. But also visiting the Buzludzka Monument had been a dream of ours for a long time too. But the days exploring Romania were just unforgettable!
People have also been a highlight of this month too. Meeting up with family in Turkey was lovely after being away for long. We also caught up with freinds in Turkey too who we had not seen for 7 years, it is so nice that you can come back after so long and it is like nothing has changed. But boy did we have a lot to catch up on, thankfully we are freinds on facebook so we have been able to keep up to date with each others lives!
We also met some amazing people on the road too, the owners of the hostel in Sofia became good freinds and the adventures we all had together are memories we will keep for the rest of our lives. We also had a great time in Romania making good freinds with Sean, an Aussie from Adelaide who we just kept on bumping into!
Then there were the guys who we took the day trip to the highway with, Jorda, Emiliano and Jodie, these guys made an amazing day one of the most epic! Last but not least is our old mate Paul who we met in Sarajevo. We had been along an almost identical path but he was always around 2 days behind us, finally we caught up in Romania and Moldova and now it felt like we had been freinds for life, and I am sure we will be!
Not many this month to be honest, although I think before we sorted out our remaining timescale we did worry we might have spent a little too much time in Turkey. We did start to miss Dook and for some reason knowing we were on the final section of the leg made this a little worse! Now he feels so close! We do feel a little bit of pressure to hurry up now but we have pretty much done everything we dreamt of on this trip and now its just a case of a few city breaks.
The troubles in Turkey hit us a little too and made us feel both a little scared and also quite lucky. We were in Istanbul just a few days after a couple of bombs, then we flew out via Istanbul to Bucharest again just a few days after the airport had been attacked. Then just a week or so later there is the coup attempt. We luckily missed any trouble but it does make you wonder if we were a little fool hardy still going.
Keep in the loop!
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!
Read about our first and second months here:
We’ve currently just arrived in Kiev after yet another night bus! We will be here probably a little longer than we had originally intended as we are waiting and hoping for both a visit to Chernobyl and also a visa for Belarus! I am writing this a little past the monthly point so what we have left is just over 2 weeks. In this time we hope to see everything Kiev has to offer, transit through Belarus and spend a few days in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland. This section of the trip will be faster than the rest as our main interest was in the Balkans, but we are looking forward to seeing how the Baltics measure up too.
Our flight home is booked for 2nd August from Riga to the random airport of Doncaster! We are looking forward to seeing family, freinds and mostly our dog Dooku! Knowing we are heading back out travelling makes heading home not to tough at all. In fact, it will be good to sleep in our own beds, chill out for a while and catch up with the blog posts!
After that, we are not 100% sure yet, we need to look at flights. But the plan is to start our asian adventure by flying to China and making our way mostly south from there (we would like to add India into that too), but that is over a month into the future!