Friday, September 15, 2017

Where I've Been All Summer

It has been a ridiculously long amount of time since my last post. If you've been following me on Facebook, then you know that I have a pretty good excuse. I boarded a plane in Portland on April 25 and I did not return until August 23, exactly 120 days later. Why? I wanted to check out the only part of Europe I had never been to, plus I was researching the developing beer scene in the Balkans and central and eastern Europe. As you will see below, I ended up covering A LOT of ground in four months. I have many, many blog posts to write about more specific topics like the destinations themselves, the logistics of a trip like this, and my experiences. But, for now, at least you'll know where I've been all summer.
This itinerary from a Lonely Planet guidebook was part of the inspiration for my trip.
My journey started in Sofia, Bulgaria, by way of Amsterdam. I did not have a plan other than I knew I would stay in Sofia for the first few days and that I needed to be in Munich on May 19 to meet my husband Greg for his vacation.
The famous Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia
I ended up visiting the following cities while traveling primarily by bus, a few times by train, and a few of times by private vehicle for day trips. My accommodations were in dorm beds in hostels.

Sofia, Bulgaria - 3 nights (day trip to Rila Monastery)
Plovdiv, Bulgaria - 3 nights (day trip to Buzludzha)
Skopje, Macedonia - 3 nights (day trip to Pristina, Kosovo)
Ohrid, Macedonia - 1 night
Tirana, Albania - 2 nights
Kotor, Montenegro - 2 nights
Dubrovnik, Croatia - 2 nights
Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina - 2 nights
Split, Croatia - 1 night
Plitvice National Park, Croatia - 1 night
Zagreb, Croatia - 2 nights
Ljubljana, Slovenia - 2 nights
Plitvice National Park is well worth a visit!
Once I met up with Greg in Munich, we had a set itinerary which involved taking trains across Germany and Austria, then returning to Munich to pick up a rental car and drive south to Switzerland. We stayed in simple, family-run guesthouses and hostels in private rooms with shared baths, except for the last night in Munich was at an airport hotel.

Munich, Germany - 3 nights
Vienna, Austria - 4 nights (day trip to Bratislava, Slovakia)
Salzburg, Austria - 2 nights
Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland - 3 nights (day trips to Schilthorn via Gimmelwald and Murren; Interlaken and Grindelwald) 
Munich, Germany - 1 night (via Liechtenstein)
This is why we went to Switzerland.
I dropped Greg off at the airport early on the morning of June 1 and, after returning the rental car in Munich, boarded a train. My accommodations were a mix of hostel dorm, hotel, and Airbnb private room with shared bath.

Regensburg, Germany - 3 nights
Plzen, Czech Republic - 3 nights
Szczecin, Poland - 2 nights
Yes, I went to Plzen for the beer (and the Pilsner Urquell brewery tour)!
My friends from Seattle, Eva and Jeremy Rees, were vacationing in Europe at that time, so we decided to travel together for one week. They picked me up with their rental car in Szczecin. We stayed in Airbnbs except for one night with Eva's uncle.

Poznan, Poland - 2 nights
Wagrowiec, Poland - 1 night at family home
Lodz, Poland - 2 nights (via Gniezno)
Wroclaw, Poland - 2 nights
Eva's uncle is building this motorcycle for her.
Eva and Jeremy continued on their vacation while I stayed in Poland another couple of days to figure out where I would go next. Ultimately I decided to venture farther east which required some flying along with more trains and buses. All of my accommodations were in dorm beds in hostels.

Wroclaw, Poland - 2 nights
Lviv, Ukraine - 3 nights
Minsk, Belarus - 4 nights (day trip to Mir and Nesvizh)
Kiev, Ukraine - 5 nights (day trip to Chernobyl)
Odessa, Ukraine - 3 nights
Chisinau, Moldova - 3 nights
Iasi, Romania - 2 nights
Brasov, Romania - 3 nights (day trip to Bran and Rasnov)
Bucharest, Romania - 3 nights
St Volodymyr's Cathedral in Kiev
After battling the oppressive heat off and on for weeks, I was exhausted and ready for a break. Thankfully the timing was perfect to visit my family in the Netherlands. I slept in the guest room of their beautifully renovated farmhouse in Zuidbarge.

Emmen, Netherlands - 7 nights (day trip to Orvelte)
The van Oosterom's house in Zuidbarge, Emmen.
I was hoping to continue traveling in eastern Europe, but after enjoying the comforts of home in Emmen I was finding it hard to get motivated to fly all the way back to Romania to finish off my sightseeing in the western part of the country. Also, if I traveled that far, I knew I would want to venture overland through Serbia, then back up through Hungary and into Slovakia to visit some friends. Ultimately I'm glad I opted for something different as the region experienced a horrific heat wave during that time. However, I ended up having other challenges (torrential rain) during my two week car camping adventure across northern Germany. I rented a car in Emmen and borrowed all of the camping gear from my Dutch family.

Gyhum - 1 night camping (via Bremen)
Grossensee - 1 night camping (via Hamburg)
Wismar - 1 night couchsurfing (via Lubeck)
Rostock - 1 night hostel dorm (via Schwerin)
Born - 1 night camping (via Warnemunde)
Stralsund - 2 nights Airbnb i.e. paying to sleep on someone's couch (day trip to Rugen Island)
Berlin - 3 nights hostel dorm
Wusterwitz - 1 night camping (via Potsdam and Brandenburg)
Garbsen - 1 night camping (via Magdeburg and Hanover)
Bad Rothenfelde - 1 night hotel (via Bielefeld)
My campsite at Regenbogen Born
I returned to Emmen to see the van Oosterom's off on their 3-week holiday and get final instructions for housesitting at their beautiful home. Then I proceeded to rest, relax and prepare for my return to Portland and reentry to "normal" life.

Emmen, Netherlands - 15 nights (day trip to Groningen via Zuidlaren)
My Dutch family
I couldn't resist spending a full day in Amsterdam to say a proper goodbye to Europe by visiting five breweries and beer bars. This was made even better because I got to spend time with my good friend and flying partner Adena Leal who happened to be there on a layover.

Amsterdam, Netherlands - 1 night hostel dorm
The draft list at Proeflokaal Arendsnest
I decided to fly back to the east coast of the U.S. instead of direct to Portland so I could visit with my family in Nashville, some of whom I hadn't seen in almost two years. Another incentive to go a bit out of my way - the solar eclipse, which I was able to view in its entirety, including two minutes of totality, from a folding chair in my grandmother's driveway.

Hermitage, TN - 5 nights (day trips to Franklin and Orlinda)
Watching the eclipse with my grandmother
Since I was flying standby, I had to wait until all of the eclipse watchers cleared out before I could get a seat. I ended up on a nonstop from Nashville to Seattle and then caught the next flight down to Portland.
Departing from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport with Mt Rainier in view
One hundred twenty days later, on a beautifully sunny afternoon, I arrived at home and slept in my own bed that night.
Sunset view from our deck on the evening I returned home