Backpacking in the Balkans with Girlguiding NWE

This summer, a group of us - six Rangers and three leaders - visited three amazing Balkan countries, including Bulgaria, Serbia, and Montenegro. We had the most incredible time where no two days were the same. Read our travel journal to find out about the amazing things we got up to every day. 

Day 1 - Tuesday 23 July

We were all geared up for our first flight to Sofia, where we were met by two very kind taxi drivers who were waiting to take us to the bus station; one of which even gave us a commentated tour along the way. We then boarded the Nis Express to Nis, Serbia. Upon arrival, we were happy to know that the hotel was only a short walk from the station, and we were even happier to spot a Mcdonald’s!

Day 2 - Wednesday 24 July

We started our day with breakfast in the great outdoors and ate by the riverside. Afterwards, we had an incredibly moving visit to the Red Cross concentration camp - a transition camp which was also the site of one of the biggest escape plans during the Holocaust.

Next, it was time to do some exploring of our own while finding somewhere for lunch. We discovered food we didn’t even know existed and then went to the Tower of Skulls - a super cool stone structure embedded with human skulls. It was then time to board our first overnight bus of the trip. We had the best travel games to keep us occupied throughout the journey.

Day 3 - Thursday 25 July

We got to Podgorica station at 6.30 am and started our day of exploration at a lovely Pekara (bakery). Along the way, we discovered a beautiful lake, the US Embassy, and the Millennium bridge. We also saw some amazing sights on the way to the Waterfall Rafting Centre (where we were staying) and found ourselves gazing out of the window in amazement, for the closer we got to the centre, the more beautiful the views were becoming.

When we arrived, our hosts greeted us with a traditional Montenegrin drink, which we enjoyed to the relaxing sound of the nearby Piva river. We were told that we couldn’t stay in the tents, as planned, because they were damaged, but we weren’t too disappointed as it meant we had two chalets at our disposal - yippee! We ended our day with a well-needed shower and a hearty traditional meal, and then it was time for bed.

Day 4 - Friday 26 July

We started the day bright and early with a buffet breakfast, before getting ready for a day of rafting. After helping - or should we say forcing - each other into our wetsuits, we were ready to take on the water. We enjoyed a pensive swim in the calm part of the river before being hauled back into the raft like fish on a hook, which was super amusing! Halfway through the trip, we stopped at the riverside, in Bosnia, for a drink and some all-important selfie time before making our way back to the Rafting Centre. The trip wouldn’t have been complete without an epic fall into the water and, this time, we owed our giggles to Alice.

When we got back from the Rafting Centre, we had some well-deserved down-time and enjoyed a delicious lunch. It was a chance for some of the girls to write their antics in their travel journals, while some played travel games. Time goes fast when you’re having fun and before we knew it, it was time for dinner and then bed.

Day 5 - Saturday 27 July

Today was the day that we went to Tivat, where we would be staying for two nights. When we got there, we were to walk 30-40 minutes uphill to our hostel – in the 32-degree heat! Then again, we’re Girlguiding troopers so we made it! Plus, the view outside our hostel made it all worthwhile. After a short rest, we were back on our feet in search of some food. On the way, we met some new friends - a Scout group from Nis!  After admiring the amazing collection of yachts in the marina and enjoying some ice cream, it was time to go back to the hostel.

Day 6 - Sunday 28 July

Day six and we were up bright and early for a day of exploring! First, we went to a nearby town called Kotor, where we spent the morning looking around the old town, before heading to a local shopping centre for lunch. The weather didn’t look promising, but it still didn’t stop us from eating our lunch by the sea.

We were delighted to go on a speedboat tour in the afternoon, but before that – retail therapy! We also went to see the beautiful church, Our Lady of the Rocks. A storm was brewing, and we found a brilliant submarine place to wait it out. On the way back to Tivat, we got absolutely drenched but this didn’t dampen our spirits and we finished our night laughing about it over dinner.

Day 7- Monday 29 July

The storm followed us into day seven, but come rain or shine, we were going to seize the day. We spent the morning doing a two-minute beach clean. It was pouring rain, but the beach wasn’t going to clean itself! We then explored the local gallery and chapel before visiting the Naval Heritage Museum.

Afterwards, we collected our bags from the hostel and made our way to the bus station to catch our second overnight bus of the trip - it was a smooth ride!

Day 8 - Tuesday 30 July

We were happy to come back to Nis - a place that felt quite like home - and we spent the morning having some more retail therapy in the city centre. We finished our time in Nis by buying some souvenirs and getting the bus to Sofia, Bulgaria, which was our last border crossing of the trip. It was quite late when we got to Sofia, so we swiftly found and settled into our hostel for the night.

Day 9 - Wednesday 31 July

We spent the morning exploring Sofia and found an indoor market where we had breakfast. We ate our breakfast in a nearby park, during which time we planned our day using maps of the city. Our plan involved visiting a theatre, which is one of the most ornate buildings in Bulgaria, the Russian church, and St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

That afternoon, we took a train to a nearby town where the host of a Neolithic village (where we were going to be staying for the night) picked us up. We had a great time on the climbing net and low ropes course, before taking part in a painting challenge. The evening was finished off with a meal at the restaurant in the Neolithic village. Our translation skills were tested here as the menu was all in Bulgarian. Luckily, a man on the table next to ours helped us with the translation. It was then time to settle down in our Neolithic huts for the night!

Day 10 - Thursday 1 August

The next morning, we woke up to a beautiful sunrise and equally beautiful views surrounding the Neolithic village. We then took a rather steep walk down into Chavdar village to learn about its history and culture. The walk back up the hill in the heat was going to be a challenge, but our harmonies were in check and we sang all the way up to make it easier.

We then travelled back to Sofia, where the group started to complete their final challenge - preparing a pack of first aid supplies for a local charity. After that, we took part in an evening walking tour of Sofia, before having a delicious meal in an Italian style restaurant.

Day 11 - Friday 2 August

For our final day in Sofia, we woke up early for the Rila Monastery tour. The tour included a visit to the monastery, a walk through the woods to the home/cave of a well-known monk who left the monastery to live as a hermit, and a visit to the Boyana church. Our tour guide was incredibly informative and each of our stops provided us with beautiful views of stunning architecture.  

Once we were back in the city centre, the group posted the first aid parcel and we did a spot of tourist shopping before dinner. We decided to go to a restaurant called ‘Happy’ for our final meal in Sofia – this was fitting as we were feeling great! We had a wonderful time but were greeted with a thunderstorm for our walk back to the hostel! We were not prepared for this weather in our shorts and flip-flops, so there was plenty of running and laughter as we made our way back. Dancing in the rain was the perfect, albeit damp, end to the trip!

Day 12 - Saturday 3 August

Today was the last day of our trip. We had our final opportunity to take photos and hand out the last of the badges. Throughout the trip, the leaders had been handing out pin badges to the group when a challenge had been completed, when a new country had been visited and when a girl had shown a particular strength or skill. It was another early start, but the group was treated to a private transfer straight to the airport

When we touched down at home, there were many hugs and goodbyes before we all left the arrivals terminal and greeted our families. What a lovely memory of meeting heart-warmingly friendly people in every country, seeing some amazing sights, and having yet another fantastic guiding experience.