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Balkans and Baltics -You win some, you lose some!

2014 was to be my Balkans and Baltics year. Revisiting The Balkans and finally, visiting The Baltics. This was my third trip to The Balkans and most definitely the travel highlight of 2014. With 10 days we had ample time to enjoy and explore Dubrovnik, visit Mostar in neighbouring Bosnia-Herzegovina, also Perast and Kotor in Montenegro. Travelling in late- September, early-October, the weather was still sunny and warm but the crowds weren't quite as bad as in peak season. A wonderful trip, exciting and relaxing in equal measure and as I didn't make it to Sarajevo this time, a perfect excuse for another visit soon.

IN May/June I caught the tail end of the 2014 Riga Pre-Euromeet trip and then travelled on to Tallinn. Though Riga and Tallinn were both new cities for me and seeing them fulfilled a longtime ambition, the trip was problematic to say the least. Originally I had planned to go to St Petersburg for Euromeet 2015 but had to cancel in February and then at the last minute, was unable to to the planned Tallinn-Helsinki day-trip either. I also learned the hard way, that travelling when you're unwell is not a very smart idea. For three of the five days in Tallinn, I had difficulty functioning and the day I left brought a major disappointment. My flight route home was Tallinn -Copenhagen-Dublin and I had deliberately chosen flights that allowed me a 9-hour layover in Copenhagen. The plan was to go into the city for a few hours and VT member Jon KB had kindly offered to meet up for a drink and some sightseeing. This plan had to be cancelled because I wasn't well enough and instead I got to spend eight of the longest hours of my life at CPH airport. So, the grand plan that included St Petersburg, Riga ,Tallinn, Helsinki and Copenhagen, fell far short of it's targets. A valuable lesson about making over-ambitious plans and not travelling a few weeks after being seriously ill. Still, I did get to visit Riga and Tallinn, had lots of good experiences in both cities and wouldn't have missed the experience for anything.

French Riviera in October

I love travelling off-season. October on the french Riviera was idyllic; sun still shining but a hint of crispness in the air and room to move on the Promenade des Anglaise. The Old Town in Nice was perfect for wandering and I would happily have stayed there for another week. The rest of the city is not quite as beautiful but the galleries alone make it worth visiting. While there we did side trips to St Paul de Vence and Monaco. St Paul de Vence, with it's tourist shops and wall-to-walI daytrippers ( just like us), I loathed, Monaco I loved. I'm sure Monaco was stuffed with day-trippers as well but they just weren't as noticeable. What was noticeable was the glamour, the glitz and the decadent air of wealth.This was like walking onto a large movie set, complete with casinos, yachts, shiny convertibles and a royal palace. All this for the princely sum of a EUR2 bus fare from Nice. Usually, my tastes veer more, towards old and architectural but this little taste of Riviera opulence was unexpectedly exciting.

So what makes a good travel year ?

A good travel year for me, would include at least one new destination. New destinations are important because at the heart of my love of travel, is the joy of discovering new places and thrill of waking up in a city or place I've never been before. Hopefully this new place will delight or intrigue in some way. It doesn't necessarily have to be beautiful but it does have to engage your imagination or senses and make being there a memorable experience. This could be because of the different culture/way of life, the architecture or the history, the galleries, the street-life, or just the buzz you get from wandering aimlessly and savouring the discoveries you make along the way.

Notching up new destinations doesn't mean abandoning the places you've already grown to love, so a perfect travel year for me would be one that would combine visits to old favourites, along with the new kids on the block.

To be there you have to get there...

... and even though the sound of my wheelie-bag's wheels whirring along beside me is my favourite sound in the world, I absolutely hate the logistics of getting there. It would be different if I was setting off by train or ferry but in the interests of economy and time, most of my journeys involve low-cost airlines. The whole airport experience, being harried and jostled through security, the long trek to the gate and the ultimate herding into a sardine can with wings, is my idea of hell. And that's before you settle in to several hours of inhaling endlessly recycled germs and overpriced, plastic sandwiches. Yes, getting there can be quite an endurance test but as the alternative is not travelling at all, it must be regarded as a means to an end.

Shank's mare or public transport...

... are my preferred means of getting around when I reach my destination. Walking is definitely my favourite although meandering would probably be a more accurate word to describe my progress. I will walk forever as long as the terrain is flat but with less then perfect lungs, hills are a major problem. In recent years I've needed to put a lot of thought into plotting routes that avoid uphill climbs and trams and buses have become my best friends. On city visits, I always buy a transport card so that I can ride to the top and stroll downhill at leisure. The only form of transport I will not use is anything drawn by horses, mules or any other beasts of burden. The sight of fat, lazy tourists riding on undernourished, exhausted animals is one that I really find hard to stomach.

Why Virtual Tourist ?

VT is way more then a website to me. Unlike any other site I frequent, this one goes beyond the page, directly to the people and the places. Lots and lots of places ! Since joining VT in 2006, I've visited Austria, Germany, Portugal, Israel, Poland, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Macedonia and Italy, to take part in VT meets. On side trips from these meets, I've been to Switzerland, Czech Republic, Hungary. Kosovo and Albania. For someone like me whose partner isn't keen on trips that involve a lot of sightseeing and moving from place to place, VT is an invaluable travel resource. Without VT , I would certainly not have made it to Israel or to the Balkans, or to Ukraine or Romania.

The places are made possible by the people and as people go, VT members, - especially the ones I meet every year in different locations all over Europe - are the best. VT staff are also members and regular attendees at meetings. so really we are talking about a community of friends and fellow travellers here. In other words - the people behind the places.

  • Intro Updated Apr 17, 2015
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“Outside of a cat, a book is (wo)man's best friend.Inside of a cat, it's too dark to read. ( Apologies to G. Marx)”

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