End of an era – finding new ways to travel

After years of blogging about our single mum and son travel adventures, I had hoped to surprise everyone with a final post from a luxury city break. However, it hasn’t exactly worked out like that. Way back in January 2020 I booked a 5 star hotel in Istanbul to celebrate Noah’s 18th birthday in November 2020. The booking was remarkable for 2 reasons. First, the 4 day break cost more than what we generally spent in a month backpacking! But what the heck I thought he deserves to experience how most people travel. And secondly, it was booked 11 months in advance so we had months and months to plan. And then Covid hit. Like millions of others, we thought we’d be fine and that travel would resume by the Autumn half-term – but of course it didn’t.

Now Noah has turned 18 I can’t help feeling that it is the end of an era. Anyone travelling with kids will know the challenges and joy it brings. I have been lucky, he has always been very easy-going, resourceful and adaptable. He has never moaned about sleeping on floors, being hungry or wanting to go home. Travelling with kids opens many doors and we’ve had a far richer experience from being invited to stay and spend time with locals all around the world. So thank you to all of you.

I began this blog 11 years ago hoping to inspire other families to travel and over the years I believe we have done so. Now, it’s 2021 and I need to find new ways of travelling. In my early 20’s I travelled solo and thoroughly enjoyed it but after almost 20 years of roaming the world with the best travel companion ever I fear that it will take some adjusting to. But I am going to do it because there’s a whole world out there waiting for me to explore – just as soon as this blasted Coronavirus is under control!

Thank you to everyone who has read our blogs or contributed in some way to our amazing adventures. Happy Family Travelling – it’s the best way to educate and inspire your children! Bon Voyage!

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Our Balkan Trip

Now back home in England, we wanted to look back on our trip by adding up the miles and the steps and the other statistics of oue adventure.

Total steps (Noah): 420 803

Total distance walked: 156 miles (251km)

Total floors climbed (one floor=~10feet): 860

Total distance travelled in trains/buses: 1249 miles (2010km)

Total cities visited: 13

Total countries visited: 6.1 (.1 for a layover in Germany)

Total customs passed through: 7

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Last days in Split

Split is hectic and humid, even when we arrive late in the evening. The souvenir stalls, as well as the bars, are buzzing with tourists looking to enjoy their Croatian holiday. The main attraction of Split is Diocletian’s Palace, which is honestly less of a Palace and more of an exterior wall with various ruins, the basement of which is filled with pricey souvenir and local jewellery shops. It’s labyrinthine streets are packed with bars, shops and restaurants and you’re physically squeezed whn nay one of the 300 cruise ships that visits every high season makes port. Not the most pleasant of walks down narrow cobbled streets!

Our second, and final day of the trip was therefore spent escaping the Palace grounds. Most travellers head out to the nearby islands. We however, headed inland to the Dalmatian Hinterland. Our first stop was an organic farm that produced a range of cosmetic and more edible products, Stella and Herba Croatica. They grew all of their own olives, lavender and figs and made their delicacies 85% by hand. Our favourite place was the Vranjaca Caves, a family-owned business into a hidden treasure of Croatian Countryside. It is packed with stalactites, stalagmites and other natural rock formations that were absolutely fascinating and an unbelievable 15°C. After returning to the main town, we did a small tour of the new town, passing new sights such as the national park which borders the Adriatic Sea and the city stadium. We left early in the morning for the airport ad the last bus we will catch in this epic adventure!

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Europe’s most expensive city

We left Herceg-Novi, making our final, and slowest, border crossing into Croatia. This time we all had to file off the bus, present our passports and then crawl slowly for 2 miles to do it all over again. However, we still arrived in Dubrovnik with much of the day left. Famous for its walled old town, it is one the most popular tourist destinations in Europe and so we were prepared for the crowds. It is more beautiful than we expected, with amazing views of the old towns shiny, red-tiled roofs and polished limestone streets from the upper walls that stretch for 2km around its perimeter. We bought a one day explorers card and we maximised it, visiting the cultural heritage museum, the maritime museum, the modern art gallery, the ethnographic museum, the monastery, and the oldest still functioning pharmacy in Europe. Walking over 33,000 steps and up over 150 flights of stairs over the 2 days, we will sleep well tonight.

Our final day in Dubrovnik we spend exploring the port area as we wait for our ferry to Split. We had a quick breakfast in a local cafe bar before collecting food and drink we would need for the rest of the day. We hung around, trying ice creams and doing a spot of geocaching, until our ferry was due at half 4. Despite some mild panic over another ferry going to the same destination just 30 mins earlier we boarded and sat down by a window to enjoy the journey. We arrived in Split, our final destination on our Balkans tour around 9pm.

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Movin’ up in Montenegro

After our first free breakfast, including local feta cheese and eggs, we headed to the bus ‘street’ Station to travel to Podgorica. Accosted by a taxi driver, we agree to travel with him if he can find more passengers in order to reduce the price. We are in luck and we pass the Albanian-Montenegro border with two French passengers. Podgorica is the capital of Montenegro and surprisingly the wettest city in Europe. At 33 degrees for over 9 hours of the day this is hard to imagine! Our highlight of Podgorica was dinner, made of local dishes.

The following day we continued our journeys through Montenegro and spend two nights in the coastal town of Herceg-Novi. Located at the entrance to the bay of Kotor, the bus journey along the coastal path was long and windy yet spectacular. We cool off in the Adriatic Sea and struggle to find the energy to do much else other than sunbathe. In a Serbian bar, Noah collects his GCSE results making it one of those unforgettable places. Our next stop is our last and final country, Croatia.

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Moving fast through Albania

After leaving Lake Ohrid, we started into a new country, Albania, visiting first the capital, Tirana. A certainly emerging tourist destination, Tirana is busy with building sites and vast empty squares in preparation for its future touristic allure. We visited a unique Albanian history museum, inside a preserved, communist-era nuclear pit bunker. It showed an insight on the development and management of the country’s military and police bodies, throughout the rise and fall of communism, from 1912 to 1991.

From Tirana, we traveled to Shokra, a small city in the north of the country. Here, we went to a preserved traditional Turkish House that showed the history of the area through archaeological finds and other artifacts. However the highlight of this city must be the castle on the hill that is Razafa Castle. Towering above the city on a rocky hill, it was built in the Illyrian era and was captured by Roman Invaders in 167BC. It gave spectacular views of the three rivers that converge around the city of Shkodra especially at sunset (the best time to visit) as well as distant views of the mountains that seem to surround us wherever we travel.

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Country Food Challenge

This evening we went to a traditional restaurant and had some excellent local dishes. From top to bottom: cottage cheese and lamb’s liver (Tavë Dheu); Lima beans with local dressing; local bread; lamb’s inner portions with rice, egg and spices (Kolloface)

Can you guess where we are??

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Escape to the Lake

After travelling 5 hours southwest, we arrived at the touristy lakeside town of Ohrid. Albania is on the opposite bank, so there are plenty of cultural influences, but to be honest it is just a picturesque, touristy lake where you can take boat trips, go for a paddle or a swim in the clear waters, or browse the locally made jewellery stores than line the narrow main street. Our accommodation continues to be basic, but adequate for what we need and at times a welcome refuge from the 3pm heat.

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Put Skopje on your travel wishlist!

36 hours ago we crossed the Bulgarian border into North Macedonia. It was immediately noticeable that we had changed countries, from the construction of the houses to the general state of the communities. We also saw a lot more donkeys as well as bee hives. We spent a wonderful afternoon exploring the capital city, Skopje. Its such a beautiful city, even though it has mostly been rebuilt since 2010. Costing over €670 million to rebuild, its come at quite a cost to this small country of 2 million,but we think it is really quite spectacular. The mix of Ottoman architecture in the old town to the new neo-classical splendour is truly impressive. It verges on kitsch but it is more wholesome. We would recommend that you all come and visit. Highlights include a 22m tall bronze statue of Alexander the Great, multiple bridges flanked with statues of famous world leaders and the city’s own Arc de Triomphe. The beautiful old bazaar district with its alleys, mosques, and old hilltop fort wouldn’t be out of place in the Middle East. It is a wonderful contrast between traditional roots and new modern influence.We have also spent an amazing day in the Matka Canyon, only a 50 minute bus ride out of town. Never missing the opportunity to hire a kayak in unique landscapes, we took out a double for an hour whilst the crowds were still having their hotel breakfasts. It was truly beautiful and serene, a world apart from the city, and very much what we needed. Having not quite satisfied our need for nature, we hiked about 25 minutes, 40 flights of stairs up the canyon cliff to a monastery that gave excellent views of the gorge. We came back for a final stroll along the river Vardar and will no doubt fall into a deep sleep very shortly! Tomorrow our journey continues through North Macedonia.

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Travelling south through Bulgaria

Our journeys continue south through the Balkans, with our arrival at Bulgaria’s capital city, Sofia. Bulgaria is a small country with only 7 million inhabitants. With its wide streets and huge squares, Sofia does seem sparse. After arriving at 6:30 in the morning, we had the whole day ahead of us to explore the city. Above are some photos of our favourite buildings.

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