Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Mon June 27 2016

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  • Nick and Dariece | June 27, 2016 11:00 PM ET

    Highlights From Our Backpacking Trip in The Balkans

    Highlights From Our Backpacking Trip in The Balkans

    Photos by Goats on the Road

    Even though we've always been interested in visiting the fascinating countries of Romania, Hungary, Poland and the Ukraine (to name a few), during our recent European travels, we were drawn to the southern Balkan nations. The thought of exploring the war-torn country of Bosnia & Herzegovina and visiting old towns on the sea really appealed to did skiing, hiking and road-tripping!

    The Balkans seemed to have it all, and before we knew it, we were traveling to Plovdiv, Bulgaria, which marked the starting point of our two-month backpacking trip.

    travelling to plovdiv bulgaria

    The City of Plovdiv itself was a huge highlight of our travels. First of all, we didn't know what to expect whatsoever. Our European adventure was a last-minute decision and we found that we focused more on planning Croatia and Macedonia, rather than our first stop: Bulgaria. When we arrived in Plovdiv from Turkey, the fact that we hadn't planned much didn't matter — this city was easy to navigate, and the people were helpful and welcoming. Best of all was our beautiful accommodation at the Old Plovdiv Hostel set in a home built in 1868.

    where to sleep in plovdiv bulgaria

    We dined on duck hearts, cabbage rolls and platters of grilled vegetables and meats. We made friends with the locals who took us on a mini pub-crawl. We went on a wine tour (and drank a little too much wine). We were interviewed by a local Plovdiv magazine, watched live music in an underground destination, and met up with Jarryd, a fellow travel blogger and traveler.

    The fact that we were able to explore the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe and some of the oldest vineyards in the world was pretty amazing! Plovdiv had so much to offer that we extended our stay. After drinking, eating, exploring and being super aylak (relaxed) in Bulgaria, we made our way to Macedonia (FYROM), which offered us another highlight of our journey in the region. We didn't know much about the upcoming festival, Epiphany, but as soon as we arrived at Lake Ohrid, that was the hot topic among the locals.

    epiphany on lake ohrid macedonia

    We stayed at Mal Sveti Kliment, which was just minutes from the lake. The owner of the guesthouse graciously invited us to spend the Epiphany celebration with him and his family. The best part about travel is meeting the local people and learning about their way of life, their customs and their culture. Naturally, we jumped at this invitation to experience Epiphany.

    First, we went down to the lake. It was 17 degrees F outside and lining the shores were men in shorts and t-shirts. In the East, Christians commemorate the baptism of Jesus during Epiphany. To honor and remember the baptism, people jump in the freezing cold water of nearby lakes, rivers or seas, to essentially baptize themselves as well. Here at Lake Ohrid, only the men were brave enough to jump in the water. The celebration was very unique and unlike anything we've ever seen. Once the swimming in the lake was finished, we made our way to the guesthouse to enjoy hot rakia (local brandy) and traditional foods with our new Macedonian friends. This was one experience we will never forget.

    READ MORE: An Epiphany at Lake Ohrid, Macedonia's Natural Gem

    From the lake to the sea. Our final highlight is from Albania, a "wild" country that was cut off from the world during the communist regime. We road tripped through Albania for 10 days and had wonderful experiences. The Albanian people were extremely welcoming and kind. We were constantly lost during our travels, and there was always a smiling face to point us in the right direction. The food was very good, and the prices were extremely fair.

    The drive along the Adriatic coastline from Saranda to the bustling city of Tirana was one that we'll never forget. The scenery was stunning! Starting at sea level, we made our way along the coast, before gaining altitude and finding ourselves in the beautiful countryside. Once we reached the pass, we began our descent through forested areas and farmland.

    driving in albania renting a car

    The views along the way were spectacular and (thankfully) driving this route was easy and well-marked. Even though I only listed three countries in this article, in all honesty, each country we visited offered us something that we'll never forget. Our experiences during our travels in Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria were wonderful. We will definitely be returning to the southern Balkans!

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Nick and Dariece Notes from the Goats

Nick and Dariece Nick and Dariece are the couple behind Goats On The Road, a website designed to inspire others to live a financially sustainable, location independent lifestyle. Masters at making money abroad and turning their travels into a way of life, they've been on the road since 2008 and have explored some of the least visited places on earth, finding adventure wherever they go. They are also full time contributors at Credit Walk where they share their expertise of making money and travelling forever. Check them out at Goats On The and follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.
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