Saturday, March 7, 2009

Dream Trips, Vol. 4: Road Trip, Eastern European Style

There's something about being settled for longer than a month that gets the creative dream juices flowing, and so I bring you the fourth installment in WayWorded's most imaginative series.

This dream trip was inspired not just by being settled but by who I'm settled with. Since I arrived at the Sustainable Bolivia house more than six weeks ago, volunteers have come and volunteers have gone; the only two constants have been a young pair from Poland. I've had many chances to discuss their homeland with them, through such interesting lenses as WWII history, the once-Polish stronghold of Chicago, and Polish cinema. The more I hear, the more I'd like to head to Krakow and toss back some pivos while getting to know this often-overlooked yet fascinating country.

But why stop there? "Often-overlooked yet fascinating" describes all of Eastern Europe, in my opinion, and I'd like nothing more than to give it the attention it deserves. I'm proposing the mother of all road trips to do just that.

The starting point would be Tallinn, Estonia's almost-Scandinavian capital that's been getting rave reviews from travelers lately for its low-budget, high-class atmosphere. From there, a southbound route takes us through the rest of the Baltic states, to Minsk and "Europe's last dictatorship" of Belarus, and finally to Kiev, Ukraine.

Next begins a series of switchbacks as we cut west to visit the fount of inspiration itself, Poland. From there, the zigzags continue, heading south and then back east to take in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, and Bulgaria. After this, one final westward loop is necessary to swing through all six states of the former Yugoslavia (the map shown above is a bit behind the times and so is missing Montenegro), plus Albania. Finally, what better place to cap an epic road trip than a Greek island?

Twenty countries, more than 4,000 miles, up to six months on the road. Yes, being settled does fire up the imagination!

The lengthy duration dictates a start in the summer months to ride the temperate climate wave south. But the options are limitless in terms of where to stay, how long to stay there, and what various touristic, volunteer, and other activities to take on along the way.

Of course, I might need to purchase a carbon offset to ease my conscience regarding all the driving, too. But I'd be willing to do whatever it takes to realize this dream road trip.

Who's with me?


Valerie said...

This sounds like a great plan! My trip through those countries last year was definitely one of the most fascinating I've ever had. I would have liked to have more time but I got a pretty good overview in my 2 months there.

hal said...

Hey Valerie, thanks! I'd love to have 2 months in Eastern Europe, road trip or no.

As someone who's spent that amount of time in the region, what suggestions would you make regarding routes, destinations, attractions, or other opportunities to someone undertaking this trip?

aya said...

I am!

Kathy Amen said...

Let's go! (Love the picture)

Daniel Noll said...

Sounds like a great plan. A vast plan. Audrey and I can definitely make some suggestions regarding the Baltics (including Haapsalu, Tartu, Klaipeda, Curonian Spit:

Some thoughts on other locations:
Czech Republic: Cesky Krumlov
Romania: Brasov and Sighisoara
Croatia: Dalmation Coast (nice drive, btw)
Slovenia: Skocjan caves, Bled
Slovakia: Levoca and Spissky Hrad (a little of the beaten path)

Will be difficult not to have a great time, whatever you choose.

OK, I must get back to packing for Guatemala.

Happy planning and travels!

hal said...

Thanks for the tips, guys! I must admit that, as this trip is still in the dream phase, I know next to nothing about the region and most of these names are new to me. But this will be great to come back to if I'm ever lucky enough to turn it into reality.

Have fun in Guatemala!

Valerie said...

Daniel gave some great suggestions above. I wish I'd had a chance to get to Cesky Krumlov last year but since I'd already been to the Czech Republic on a previous trip I decided not to make that detour. I would definitely recommend the Balkans, especially Bosnia (Sarajevo & Mostar), as well as Ljubljana and Piran (a cool Venetian town) in Slovenia. It was interesting to see the differences between 5 of the former Yugoslav countries and also the Baltic states. I didn't make it to Istria in Croatia either but I've heard it's nice there. I spent the vast majority of my time in the major cities, so I didn't make it off the beaten path much. Hope you get carry this out!

hal said...

Thanks, so do I! If so, I have no doubt all these suggestions will get me where I need to go!

Sarah Menkedick said...

Oh, count me in!! I know exactly what you mean about how a small degree of settled-ness can be all it takes to fuel wild traveling dreams. I have become road trip obsessed--there is something about random roadside stands (bananas and rice in Malaysia, barbacoa in Mexico) and tiny, winding roads that makes me all dreamy.

How do you like Sustainable Bolivia, by the way? I just wrote about them for a Matador article and they sound great.

hal said...

Sarah, Mexico would be an ideal road-trip locale!

SB is going well. I like the fact that it's a newbie and very small scale. More bumps in the road, but also no remove between staff and volunteers.

Kyle Sterry said...

Are you still planning on doing this? It's a trip that is similar to my plans (at least the Eastern Europe part of the epic trip).

hal said...

Hey Kyle,'s not immediately in the works or anything, but hopefully I can make it happen sometime within the next 2-3 years. Since I wrote this I even made some Polish friends, so there's another reason to go for it.

Have you blogged/written about your plans? I'd love to see them if so...