In which there are some tips on travelling in Eastern Europe



As part os Eastern Europe, particularly the Balkans, are still developing when it comes to tourism, I thought I’d pass on some tips for fellow travellers that may be of use if you’re planning a similar trip to our recent one.

Initially we thought about picking up a hire car in Split and then driving it all the way to Belgrade, but the problem was that in going to another country, every company then whacked a relocation fee on top of the hire fee, making it too expensive to justify. Public transport it was then.

Travelling around Bosnia and Serbia is not the easiest, however, as the infrastructure just isn’t there yet, so it’s harder to be spontaneous about how to get to places. Trains are pretty much non-existent, but there are buses, and with some forward planning you should be fine.

It’s always a good idea to have your passport with you when moving between the Balkan countries and Hungary — the Schengen Agreement doesn’t come into effect until you get further west.

Split to Mostar


To get from Split to Mostar there are lots of coaches leaving from Split’s bus station. It takes about 3 and a half hours, cost about £12 each and the coach was air conditioned, and even had free wi-fi. Don’t be alarmed if you have to get off the bus and transfer to a second one once you’ve gone over the border. And do remember to keep your passport on you and not in the luggage hold as once you cross from Croatia to Bosnia, the driver takes everyone’s passports for border control. Having to get off the bus and explain to a stern-looking driver and border official that I needed to fish them out of the hold was not a fun experience. Again, handing over your passport to a complete stranger and watching it disappear from your sight is a little alarming, but it was all fine.

To get to Kravice from Mostar we hired a car, from the car hire place next to the train station. They spoke good English and while we got their last and most rubbish car, everything was fine. Pre-book if you can to make sure you get one and that it’s not as shit as ours was. It’s not as cheap as you think it’s going to be to do the actual hiring (I can’t remember the exact cost but I think it was around £50) but the petrol is cheap and it’s definitely worth it to experience the waterfalls. Bosnians take a somewhat random approach to driving (although it’s nothing compared with the Italians), so be prepared for people to turn off the road without warning.

Also, do not use the Google map directions as to where the car park is for the waterfalls. We did, and ended up going down this terrifyingly narrow bumpy single track, which ended in what I can only describe as an ‘unofficial’ car park that a few locals seemed to know about. I can only tip my hat to S for his calm head and calm driving, as I would have been having a panic attack at the thought of navigating a car over all the rocks. There’s another more official entrance which is the one to aim for – ask at the car hire place.

Mostar to Sarajevo


To get from Mostar to Sarajevo, there are two options: bus or train. They take about the same length of time, three hours, but the difference is that the buses are way more frequent – there are only two trains, around 7am and 7pm, whereas there are around 6-7 buses per day. They both follow the same route too, which is one of the most stunning I have ever travelled – think mountain passes and sparkling blue lakes. The train is around £4.50 and the bus about £6, which compared with British prices is an absolute steal.

Sarajevo to Belgrade


Sarajevo to Belgrade is a lot trickier. There are flights, although they’re quite expensive, and public buses take around 9 hours, so we originally opted for a private minibus transfer with that would take around 5 hours, leave in the afternoon and cost 20 EUR each. I found this company really hard to communicate with, however, and on the day of our actual transfer, they were running three hours late due to a problem at the border, which meant we wouldn’t have arrived in Belgrade until midnight at the earliest. Add this to torrential rain and driving in the dark on mountain roads, and we decided to cancel the trip and hire a car, partly because they didn’t have any seats on the next morning’s minibus and partly because we didn’t feel the company was trustworthy. Ironically, we then ended up having to pay the relocation fee that we hadn’t wanted to pay in the first place, but it was a cheaper and more convenient option than flying and we really had limited options at this stage. The drive took around five hours and was very scenic, particularly the first part going through the mountains. Although after seeing the hairpin bends, I was very grateful we’d stayed another night in Sarajevo and not been on a minibus negotiating them in the dark and the rain.

If you take the hire car route, make sure you have the right paperwork for crossing the border – this should be standard with the bigger hire places but it doesn’t hurt to check. You’ll need to show this and your passports at the border between Bosnia and Serbia, and also be prepared for a bit of a wait here – it took us about 20 minutes to get through, but it can be more.

Belgrade to Budapest


Belgrade to Budapest has a good train service, and as it takes around eight hours we opted for an overnight one to make the most of our time there (and save on a night’s accommodation). The woman at the international ticket desk at Belgrade ticket office was hilariously unhelpful and with the deadest of deadpan expressions, but hey, I don’t speak Serbian so I guess I should be grateful we could order our tickets in English. Ask for the 15 EUR ticket, which gets you a bed in a four-berth cabin. There is also the ‘Russian carriage’ option, which is much fancier and I think is named because it then continues onto Russia after Hungary, but this was a lot more expensive — around £50 per person. Be aware that you will be woken up twice in the night by the border guards – first by Serbian guards and then by Hungarians, both of whom want to see your passport.  The beds are the typical fold down ones found on trains (similar to those in Thailand and India), and you get a blanket, sheet and pillow. Also be aware that everyone smokes in Serbia, and your carriage will probably be full of smoke wafting in from people lighting up in the corridors. At over 6’2”, S also struggled to physically fit in this bed, so tall people take note! The train arrives into Budapest’s Keleti station, which is in the south of Buda and has excellent metro, tram and bus connections, as well as left luggage lockers.

Budapest to Vienna


Once you’re in Budapest, everything travel-wise becomes a lot simpler and a lot more modern (and also more expensive, obviously, but that’s the pay off). There’s a frequent train service from Budapest’s Keleti station to Vienna’s Hauptbanhof, which takes 2 hours. We pre-booked our seats and got one in second class for 19 EUR and one in first class for 29 EUR, which was much cheaper than buying on the day at the station. Check both the Hungarian railways website and the Austrian one as they have individual ticket allocations. I very kindly gave S the first class ticket, but ironically, I had a much nicer seat in an open carriage with a huge amount of leg room, whereas he was in an old-fashioned carriage with the individual compartments, sharing with three very grumpy people! Hungary and Austria are part of the Schengen Agreement so you won’t have to show your passport to go between the countries.

Split to Dubrovnik


I also thought I’d include an answer to a query about driving from Split to Dubrovnik that I struggled to find a definitive answer to on the internet when we went on our Croatian trip two years ago. On this route you cross into Bosnia for around 20km, going through what’s called the Neum Corridor (given to Bosnia when the countries were formed in the 90s so it had access to the sea). This is not considered by car hire places to be leaving the country, so you don’t need to worry about having the extra insurance and paperwork that you would if you’re going to Montenegro or Serbia. Do mention it, however, when you hire the car and make sure you have the car’s registration documents. There is a border at Neum and you’ll need to stop and show your passports, so have them with you.

I hope this helps if you’re planning a similar trip, and do let me know if you have any further questions as I’d be happy to give more info.

Postcard from Budapest and Vienna


I can’t believe that someone hadn’t made me go to Budapest before — it really is the most amazing city and I urge you to visit at the earliest opportunity if you haven’t already!


Split into two parts by the Danube, Buda and Pest, it’s full of amazing architecture and green spaces. Budapest is also renowned for its hot springs and there are loads of places where you can take to the water.



I also got to fulfil a long held dream and eat soup out of a bread bowl!


On the second of our two full days there we bought a 24 hour city card which gave us unlimited travel plus free access to the St Lukacs baths (and some free and discounted museum entries, but the weather was so glorious that we didn’t go to any of these). We started off with our visit to the baths, which comprise some outdoor thermal swimming pools plus a complex of indoor pools and a steam room. The indoor pools vary in temperature from 30 to 36 degrees, and I spent most of my time in the hottest pool, just lounging around and enjoying a spot of people watching. The motto here is that ‘silence is the best medicine’, so the idea is that you just relax and let the warm water work its magic. It was full of locals so I think it’s an engrained part of daily life in Budapest — I could get used to that!


There is a distinct sulphurous smell, which does take some getting used too, and which makes the option to drink the water something that can be a little hard to stomach. I did try a sip but Evian it ain’t.

We didn’t try the outdoor pools, partly because you’re supposed to wear a swimming cap, which I didn’t have, and also because after the relaxation of the warm water I wasn’t up for going into a cooler pool!

Ferries form part of Budapest’s public transport system, and these are a fab way to see the city from a different perspective. They go north and south down the Danube to various points in Buda and Pest, as well as to St Margaret Island, a lovely green corridor that lies in the river between the two sides of the city. We caught a ferry at random and ended up on the island, which had some unexpected treats — it had fountains that shot up water in time to music and stands selling the most delicious boiled sweetcorn.

We rounded off our day with a trip to a ruin bar, another of Budapest’s specialities. These are bars that pop up in abandoned buildings, some of which are temporary and some of which end up becoming permanent fixtures. We went to Sziget, which is one of the oldest and well-known. It’s a warren of interconnected rooms and spaces, all with funky decor, and a huge selection of drinks — they even had cherry beer on tap. After a pint there we ended up going for a second drink in a random burger and beer bar around the corner where a pub quiz happened to be taking place — just our type of drinking establishment! Even though it was in Hungarian I was pretty pleased to answer one music question correctly.

Vienna is only two and a half hours away from Budapest by train, so it was a really nice easy journey to make. We also fulfilled a wish of S’ on this train by having a coffee in the buffet car, which was very pleasant and felt vaguely Agatha Christie-esque.

We got around Vienna using the city hire bike scheme, which I can highly recommend. It’s really cheap — 1 EUR registration fee, then the first hour is free, and it’s around 1 EUR for every two hours after that. Vienna is definitely a cycling city as it’s super flat and has dedicated cycle lanes everywhere, so I felt safe even without a helmet and with very limited gears. There are stations for the city bikes everywhere, so there’s never a shortage of bikes to rent and places to drop them off at, and it’s a great way to see a city that’s quite spread out.



While I liked Vienna, I felt there were so many grand and beautiful buildings that sometimes it was hard to orientate yourself. My favourite bits of the city were the path along the river, where we enjoyed a bottle of Prosecco one evening, and the huge open air food market at Naschmarkt — we bought the fixings for an amazing picnic there, which also included a delicious cherry and cream cheese pie/cake hybrid thing. In the food and drink category, I was also pleased to find Almdudler, the Austrian herbal lemonade that I’d tried a few years before in Bavaria and which has a pleasingly retro can design.


As in all the cities we visited, we rented an apartment through Air BnB and the Viennese one was definitely the best — the kitchen was really well stocked and it even had a Nespresso machine. After two weeks of not-so-good Balkan stove top coffee, this was a very welcome sight.

We also found via Google maps that our apartment was a few minutes’ walk from a renowned cocktail bar (winner of Austria’s best bar 2014!) so we went there for a drink one evening. I’ve never seen a more comprehensive menu — over 20 pages of original cocktails plus all the classics you’d expect. It wasn’t cheap — around £8 each — but the artistry put into our drinks was second to none.


We were away for a fortnight but it felt much longer than that, which to me is always the sign of a good holiday! It was a lot of fun to seeing so many different places in one trip, and while I appreciate it’s not everyone’s cup of tea to be on the move so much, I loved experiencing five countries in one go, seeing where they shared common cultures and enjoying the differences, too.

The Balkans themselves weren’t always the easiest place to actually travel around so I’ll also be sharing a post with some tips I picked up that might be useful for people making a similar trip. I know that I gleaned some useful info from people’s blogs when we were planning so I wanted to give something back!

Postcard from the Balkans


When my great friend B moved to Sarajevo last year, we knew that it wouldn’t be long before we visited her and her family. An investigation into flights quickly revealed that there are no direct flights to Bosnia from the UK, however, so some creative travelling was going to be in order to make a visit happen.

We went to Split two years ago and absolutely loved it, so flying there from Bristol would enable us to hang out there again (and go back for dinner at the amazing restaurant we found.) Then plans started to fall into place – if we were going all that way, why not fly home from a different airport and visit multiple cities? S and I have recently come to the conclusion that we’re just not one-place holiday makers – we get bored if we have to stay in the same place, and that in fact our ideal holiday is made up of multiple city breaks so we can wander, drink coffee and explore to our hearts’ content. So we worked out that we could fly back from Austria, and that we could visit Belgrade, Budapest and Vienna after Sarajevo. Then I read a great review of Mostar, and we added that in as a convenient break in between Split and Sarajevo.

We only had a day in Split but we ticked off everything we wanted to do — found the amazing restaurant again where we had seafood, a delicious potato and kale dish and enough white wine to sink a ship, ate ice cream in Diocletian’s Palace while listening to the live music and had a drink in a bar in the old city. We also climbed to the top of the park (no mean feat in 32 degree heat), where they had the most beautiful views of the harbour.


Adding in Mostar was an excellent choice, as not only did we get to visit this charming city with its historic bridge (and its random statue of Bruce Lee), but also go on a day trip to the Kravice waterfalls. Located about 90 minutes south from Mostar, these are very similar to the waterfalls at Plitvice that we visited last time we went to Croatia, except you can actually swim in these ones during the summer when the water level is low. And on a 35 degree day, the ice-cold water was a welcome treat.


We ended up seeing these waterfalls touted all over Bosnia and Serbia, so they’re clearly a huge tourist attraction in Bosnia, but even in the height of summer it wasn’t unpleasantly busy. There are a few bars and coffee shops right on the shore so you can buy food and drink, and it was very pleasant to sip espresso while watching people bob past in the water. In fact, swimming in Kravice was one of the nicest things I have ever done on holiday and is my definite must-do if you visit this part of the world.

Sarajevo was an interesting city — a real mix of east and west, a place that’s still scarred by the war 20 years ago but one that’s definitely looking to the future. It’s hard not to go there and think about the war — I was ten when it broke out, and I remember reading Zlata’s Diary as a teenager, but until our trip I didn’t really have any comprehension of how bad it was and that the city was under siege for three years. We did a private tour of Sarajevo with a guide and one of the places she took us to was the Tunnel of Hope, the tunnel that was dug under the airport in order to get supplies into the beleaguered city. Visiting there was very poignant and it was there that it really hit home about how terrible those years were. And as you can see from the photo below, graveyards are sadly a prominent feature of the city.


The war isn’t the only thing of course, and it’s important not to focus solely on that. We also visited the bob sleigh track from the ’84 Winter Olympics (soon to be renovated) , saw where Gavrilo Princep had set the wheels in motion for World War 1 and stuffed ourselves on the Balkan speciality, cevpici — sausages in bread, with onions. Not healthy in the slightest, but pretty tasty!


Of course our main purpose in Sarajevo was to hang out with B and her family, which we did in bucket loads, with lots of coffee sipping, pizza eating, board game playing and beer drinking.

Belgrade was my least favourite place of the trip, but it still had its charm. I loved the Bohemian Quarter – it’s just one street, but packed full of restaurants and bars where you can do some quality people watching while sipping on cheap beer (the most popular brand of which was practically named after me!).


Due to a problem with our bus from Sarajevo to Belgrade we ended up only having one full day there, so we made the most of it with a free walking tour with Belgrade Walking Tours. I can highly recommend this — it was a great way to get an overview of the city and our tour guide was really knowledgeable. She also touched briefly on the hardships of the 1990s, and we learned about the hyper-inflation that happened in Serbia during that time, and were given a copy of the 5 million dinar note that ended up being legal currency!

Part two of the trip to follow…

In which I am not proud to be British


At the moment, I am not proud to be British. In fact, I am anything but.

The campaigning around next week’s EU referendum has revealed a nasty underbelly to this country that I am disgusted to see. And with yesterday’s murder of MP Jo Cox, something that has really affected me, the tone has become even darker. While the motives of the killer have yet to be uncovered, and it is rumoured that he had long term mental health issues, there’s no denying that the referendum has become a catalyst for some people to reveal a darker side.

Whenever the topic of leave/remain has come up and I’ve found myself talking to people who want to leave, I always ask them for their reasons. And while I can’t agree with them in any manner, shape or form, I’m pleased, for want of a better word, that none of these have been on the lines of immigration (more on political power, governance and economics).

Unfortunately the majority of the Leave campaign has been conducted around the topic of immigration, leading to a nasty ‘us and them’ mentality that is exposing the racist, xenophobic views that so many people in the country seem to hold. Views that I thought had fallen out of favour in the 70s and 80s, and seem completely at odds with life in the 21st century.

The Ukip poster unveiled yesterday summed up just how divisive and horrible the Leave campaign has become, using the refugee crisis and the misery of millions to score a cheap political shot. All this talk of “taking back control”, “making Britain great again” – it’s pathetic, jingoistic nonsense.

We often joke with our German friends about Europe, winding them up when we say we’re “visiting” Europe when we come to see them, just to hear their comically exasperated cry of “but you live in Europe!” I do think that there is a difference between us and the continental mainland, and I have often felt a gap between the UK and countries such as Germany and France in attitudes towards the EU and the role that our country plays in it. But I still think the EU is a wonderful institution, one that I am fully committed to being a part of; one that has an important role to play. We already have a slight divide due to geographical location, and I have absolutely no desire to further distance this country mentally from our cousins across the water.

If we wake up next Friday and have left the EU, that’s sending a clear message to Europe, and the rest of the world, that we consider ourselves to be superior, different and better than other countries. This is not a message that I wish to be associated with. It makes me sad that so many British people do.



Postcard from Morocco



When I think back on our trip to Morocco, two things immediately occur to me: colour and scent. The cinnamon-orange aroma of our hotel, a riot of cerise bougainvillea tumbling all over walls, terracotta buildings, endless racks of turquoise, pink, red and orange sandals, the sharp eucalyptus tang of the hammam, bright blue skies: all of these instantly take me back to our week there.

This is a holiday that’s been booked in for about three years, ever since my mom said that she wanted to go to Marrakesh for her 70th birthday. S and I decided to add on some trekking in the Atlas Mountains onto the four day city break, and with direct flights from Bristol, this couldn’t have been an easier trip to plan.

April was the perfect month for Morocco (thanks Mom!) as we had blue skies and warm breezes for most of our week there. The mountains were chillier — there was still snow on some of the passes — but this only added to their beauty.

We booked a three day, two night walk around the Three Valleys of the Atlas mountains, starting and ending in Imlil. Day one was a breeze, but day two was more challenging –eight hours of constant up and downs, accompanied by fog and rain. Still, after our epic hike in Salkantay, I know now I can do anything and my improved fitness definitely made the ascents a lot easier. We were also fuelled by very sugary mint tea, aka Berber whisky!

We thought this would be a group tour, but it actually turned out to be private; just us, our guide Ibrahim and our muleteer/cook Hamid, so I felt a bit spoiled! I was constantly amazed by the meals that Hamid could produce from the back of a mule up the side of a mountain.


Our choice to do the trekking prior to Marrakesh was definitely the right one, as facilities were pretty basic in the village ‘gites’ we stayed in and I didn’t have a shower for two days. The discovery of a rose petal-bedecked bathroom at La Maison Arabe, the amazing hotel my dad had picked (and very kindly treated us to) was met with sighs of delight. It was from the ridiculous to the sublime in terms of sanitation!



The four days we had in Marrakesh were a delightful mix of tasty tagines, sightseeing, relaxation (I indulged in both a hammam session and a massage), constant mint tea, birthday cocktails, haggling for leather sandals, reading in the sunshine and taking a very long time over breakfast. Everyone we met was so friendly, and it was one of those holidays that surpassed my expectations and gave me everything I wanted and more.

Since it was a landmark birthday, we all wanted to make it the best we could for Mom. In addition to a gift of concert tickets and inspired by Holly, I contacted friends and family to put together ‘seventy years of memories’. I didn’t opt for seventy envelopes — we’d have still been there now opening them — but I certainly collected a lot of wonderful anecdotes about her. For my part, it was so much fun to get the emails and letters back from everyone, especially since it gave me insight into parts of Mom’s life that I hadn’t known about. I then packaged them up with customised stickers, and prayed they wouldn’t get crushed in my carry-on!


Watching her open them on a warm night as we ate a superb dinner by the hotel’s pool was itself a memory I’ll treasure forever. There was so much love in the air — it was magical. And in fact that word sums up the entire trip. Morocco, I’ll be back.