Monday, 11 September 2017

Back home from the mountains of Eastern Europe.

Another summer gone and another trip finished. This year I chose to do several hikes across different mountain ranges in the Eastern Europe with some travel in between. I was surprised at how well this worked and how much I enjoyed it. It felt like less of a “pure” experience than doing one long walk from A to B. But this was compensated by the fact that I got to see a lot of different places, and not always by just hiking through them.

Eastern Europe felt perfect for this style of travel because a lot of the countries I visited were cheap. Hitchhiking was also very easy. This meant that I didn't constantly feel like I was haemorrhaging money when I was off trail. Wildcamping was also very easy.

I was gone from the 26th of July to the 7th of September. I visited Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro and Croatia. This included:

  • About two weeks spent crossing most of the Carpathian mountains in Romania (Retezat, Parang and Fagaras ranges).
  • Another few weeks in Bulgaria walking along the E4 which took me from Sofia to the Greek border, crossing the Rila and Pirin mountains along the way.
  • Four days in the Sar Moutains, which straddle the borders of Macedonia, Albania, Serbia and Kosovo.
  • Four days along the southern section of the Via Dinarica in Albania and Montenegro.
  • Four days spent simply relaxing on the beach at various coastal towns in Montenegro before flying home!

Whilst on my journey I spent at least one day or night in the following towns:
  • Cluj Napoca, Petrosani, Sibiu, Brasov (Romania).
  • Sofia, Bansko, Gotse Delchev (Bulgaria).
  • Thessaloniki (Greece).
  • Skopje, Tetovo (Macedonia).
  • Prizren (Kosovo).
  • Schkoder (Albania).
  • Kotor, Ada Bojana, Ulcinj, Budva (Montenegro)
  • Dubrovnik (Croatia)

So overall not as much time spent purely hiking as on my previous trips. But what I learnt instead was that I enjoy travelling just as much as solely hiking when the places that I'm visiting are cheap/less touristy. I'm not really a fan of sightseeing in big cities, but I love passing through small towns rich in history and with a very different culture to back home.

I found the complex history of the Baltics and the various conflicts that have occurred there fascinating. Places like Romania and Albania still maintain a very traditional way of life in mountainous and rural areas. Being able to witness this first hand and spend time with the people there was a unique and eye-opening experience. At times I felt like I'd travelled back in time. I enjoyed encountering many new languages and having a go at learning some of them, with varying degrees of success...

In terms of the hiking itself, the scenery and trail conditions were just as good as anything that I've encountered in places like the Alps and Pyrenees. A lot of places still had decent huts if you wanted to use them, although I suspect that some might fall below the standards that people are used to in western Europe.

There were still areas that could be quite crowded, such as the Seven Lakes in the Rila Mountains, or the Valbone to Theth portion of the Via Dinarica. But then again, I passed through several regions without seeing another hiker. Instead, I would meet only shepherds, farmers, and villagers out gathering blueberries or mushrooms.

Weather conditions were generally just as favourable as the summers I've spent in the Alps and Pyrenees, but perhaps a bit warmer. I only had one night that got down to freezing. I only had a handful of rainy days.

I will try to put some more information on here soon regarding gear, planning and details for each walk that I did. I also have many photos and videos to edit. A lot of this will end up on my Youtube channel over the coming weeks.