So the odyssey through Eastern Europe comes to an end
Some facts of the trip
Days “on the road” : 25
Countries visited : 7
Total distance travelled : 2,320 km
Flights taken : 2
Bus trips taken : 9
Longest bus trip : 477 km (Odesa - Kiev)
Shortest bus trip : 85 km (Podgorica- Kotor)
Uber’s taken : 1
Taxi’s taken : 2
Air BnB accommodations: 8
Booking.com : 2
Average expenditure per day including accommodation: £62
Average expenditure per day excluding accommodation : £41
Friendliest people : Albanians
Rudest people : Moldovans
Poorest Country : Moldova
Most beautiful natural scenery : Montenegro coastline around Kotor
Favourite city(s) : Tirana and Kiev
Most likely to revisit: Montenegro coastline, Tirana , Kiev
Least likely to revisit : Chişinău
Favourite bus ride for scenery : Skopje to Sofia
Best accommodation : Air BnB - Tirana
Worst accommodation : booking. com - Lake Ohrid
Best value for money : free walking tours in any of the cities
Worst value for money : cultural pub tour - Kiev
Best dining experience : Tirana
Worst dining experience : Skopje
Best wine bar : Chişinău
Best bar : Tirana
Best coffee : ohhhh tough one.. Tirana just nudging Odesa and Kiev into second place
Coldest day : Kiev ..max of 4C
Warmest day : Kotor ...max of 31C
Rain affected days : 2
Most impressive views : any part of the climb up the “Kotor Ladder” and the frescoes in any of the countless Orthodox Churches
Items of clothes carried and not used: 0
Photographs taken : 1,342
Photos likely to be deleted :1,042
Favourite customer service experience : “Vinostudia” in Kiev
Least favourite customer service experience : Any unlicensed taxi driver or any Moldovan doing anything
Most impressive unexpected experience : The availability AND quality of wi-fi everywhere. It puts the UK and more so Australia to shame. The best bit? It was always FREE. Someone at Telstra Australia or BT UK needs to explain to me how it is possible to get lightening quick free wi-fi on a clapped out bus in Moldova yet at home I get charged liked a wounded bull for snails pace internet.
The weather definitely had a large part to play in the enjoyment of this trip. Aside from one morning in Tirana I was blessed with almost cloudless days from my arrival in Pogdorica to my departure from Kiev. It was the sort of weather you'd expect in June not October.
You can do travel in Europe ''on the go'' such is the wide variety of choices for transport and accommodation. Perhaps not in peak season when things tend to get booked solid, especially in August. However in the shoulder and off seasons its entirely possible to simply book things a few days ahead of time.
I found Air Bnb to be a vital tool in attaining affordable and comfortable accommodation. On occasion I was tempted to luxuriate in a decent hotel but on a price comparison basis simply couldn't justify it. Take for example, Kiev where towards the end of the trip I looked at staying in a decent 4 star hotel. One nights accommodation in the most basic room was equivalent to 3 nights in a highly rated 1 bedroom apartment through Air BnB. My experience also revealed that your Air BnB experience is likely to be a more pleasant one if the host is female. Something about the feminine touch given to equipping their apartments with all the necessary amenities whereas male hosts seemingly provide the bare basics.
Coffee and the quality of it throughout the trip was a highlight. I had several flat whites which were as good as any that I have had in Australia and trust me when I say that Australia is home to the best flat whites in the civilised world.
Cost of basic living in this part of the world is cheap. Especially public transport. Take Kiev for example. 14 pence to go anywhere on the Metro. 6 Pence to go on a bus anywhere in Chisinau (Moldova). Basic foods at a the local markets were astonishingly cheap and the quality of the food outstanding. Fresh and seasonal. No imported bananas from Costa Rica that have been picked green and snapped frozen to be exported. If it wasn't in season you couldn't get it. Just the way it should be.
The borders of Europe are as pourous as toilet paper. I crossed 7 borders and not once did my bag get searched beyond a cursory glance on the Albanian / Macedonian border. I can well imagine that drug exporters from Afghanistan do not fear being checked until they reach the English Channel. The Schengen Agreement allows for free travel between certain states. I think you could add a few other things that are given '' free movement'' to that list as well.
Travelling the country roads in Albania, Macedonia, Moldova, and Ukraine tells you they are a looooong way from being accepted into the EU. Outside of the major cities it really is an adventure into a seemingly 3rd world dynamic. Subsistence farming at its best, survival farming in reality. Next to nought mechanical farming taking place.
Train travel is nigh impossible between these countries. Can it be done? Yes, but at a disproportionate cost in terms of time. In Romania for example you can catch a train from Bucharest to Chisinau. It takes close to 12 hours versus 8 hours in a bus. The reason for the delay is that when the train arrives at the Moldovan border, the carriages are lifted up off their wheel bases and transferred to a different set of wheels to accommodate the new rail gauge on the other side of the border. Want to catch a train from Sofia to Bucharest? You have to go via Kosovo to Greece. Take a look at a map and see how impractical that is as a transport idea.
Ukraine is seemingly only another day away from another revolution such is the growing frustration over the lack of change that has occurred since the last one in 2014. Which is a pity really because it's a really interesting city.
The Montenegro Coastline is a more isolated and less developed version than that you see in Croatia between Split and Dubrovnik. Visiting it again I would give Pogdorica a wide berth and instead fly directly into Tivat. From there explore the coastline in either direction but preferably head south towards Albania where supposedly the beaches are better and even more sparsely populated / developed.
Every city on the itinerary played host to the ''Free Walking Tour'' experience. It was an experience recommended to me by Mark.O who was the technical advisor on my bike ride earlier this year and a great suggestion at that. The biggest group I encountered was in Sofia where they split the 70 of us into 4 groups in order to make it more manageable. The smallest group was just 7 in Kiev. OK, by the time you tip the guide it might not be ''free'' but you certainly gain of wealth of information that only a local could impart. 2-3 hours they represented great value and I would recommend it for anyone travelling throughout Europe.
Kotor Old Town is in danger of becoming a victim, similar to Venice, Dubrovnik etc, of the ''Cruise Ship Syndrome''. Unlike those cities mentioned Kotor is infinitely smaller and on a day when there is a single cruise ship in town let alone the 3 that turned up one of the days I was there makes for a claustrophobic and over priced experience.