The fair Nello and I find ourselves sitting at Sydney Airport sipping a coffee very slowly to help pass the extra couple of hours caused by a delayed flight - such are the vagaries of international travel. Still, it gives me a chance to write this prologue to our European trip. It was three years ago that we undertook our first hiking trip to Europe, discovering the landscapes of Italy, France and Spain. This time we head for regions as yet unexplored - primarily the Balkans and neighbouring countries. We know so little about this part of the world - it will be fascinating to change that. It will be a long flight that takes us to Zagreb, via Dubai and London, so we plan a short stay in the capital of Croatia to overcome the jet-lag. Then, it is on to the Plitvice Lakes for a warm-up hike in this World Heritage region, before continuing on to Split on the Dalmatian Coast. We had such fond memories of our experiences cruising the Turkish Mediterranean aboard a traditional gulet, that we decided to start our time here in a similar vein - with a week cruising the Dalmatian coastline from Split, coupled with biking each day on island and mainland.

Sailing the Dalmatian Coast

From Split, we head north to do a 4-day trek in the Velebit Mountains, overlooking the Adriatic Sea, and then head south to visit the famous walled town of Dubrovnik. Here begins a part that we are really looking forward to, as we cross Montenegro and enter Albania, a country unknown and mysterious to most people. We will be doing a 5-day trek in the north, hopefully crossing the Accursed Mountains, if the winter snows melt in time, before continuing south through Tirana to Saranda on the coast. A quick traverse of Greece by bus will bring us into Bulgaria, where we plan to trek the ancient Pirin Wine Trail and then do a circuit in the Rila Mountains before heading on to Sofia. From Sofia we head westwards, most likely crossing Serbia on the night train to reach Slovenia. After a short stop in Ljubjlana to catch our breaths, we continue on to Bled and the Julian Alps for a few day walks and then a 6-day crossing of the mountains.

High crossing on the Pirin Wine Trail - Bulgaria

After that, we will probably be mountained-out, so our plan is to head north to Passau, on the German-Austrian border, and do a week long cycle trip down the Danube Valley - flatter and a bit more luxurious than the mountain huts of Slovenia. Finishing the cycle trip in Vienna, we head on to Prague for a few days and then a long train trip to Freiburg. At last some rest! Our daughter and her family are living there until the beginning of next year and we will have a little apartment nearby - time to rest and. most importantly, some quality grand-daughters' time for a long deprived grandma (and grandpa). I suspect that we will really be looking forward to that stay by then.

Danube cycle tour

Summer in the Black Forest

Getting There

Strange how one travel delay can start a chain of compounding problems. After finally boarding the flight, we sat on the tarmac for another two hours - the maintenance issues had been resolved but the resultant airworthiness certificate had somehow vanished in cyberspace. It took a seeming eternity to produce it and hand it to the pilots. Finally we were off, but our connection to Zagreb from London was now mission impossible. Little did we know that, after a 7-hour wait at Sydney Airport and a 24 hour flight from Australia, there would be another 9-hour wait at Heathrow for the new connection. Heathrow is one of the least passenger-friendly airports that I know and 9 hours there passes very very slowly. By the time we left, I was beginning to develop a strong dislike for airports in general.

Finally, we headed off to Zagreb, landing close on midnight, but fortunately, our kind host, Bozena, was waiting up to let us in to our little studio apartment. We would have to wait till morning to stretch our legs and start adapting to the new time zone. For now, we just wanted to crawl in to bed - 50 hours had passed since we last got out of bed and sleep was the only thing that interested us ....... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.