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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

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Friday, January 15, 2016

Albania 1 of 5 Underrated (and Affordable) European Countries You Should Visit Now in 2016

5 Underrated (and Affordable) European Countries You Should Visit Now

January 15, 2016
Ditch the typical European track — add these unexpected spots to your travel list. (Photo by Douglas Pearson/Corbis. Design by Lauren DeLuca for Yahoo Travel.)
By Meagen Collins / Travel Freedom Network 
It’s 2016 and many of you will most likely be making those two big New Year’s resolutions: 1. Lose weight and 2. Travel more!  Well, we are here to help you with the second one. 
Not only are we going to inspire you to travel more, but we want to inspire you to outdo your friends this year and discover some of the best off-the-beaten-path European destinations. And guess what? They all are stunningly beautiful — and they’re super affordable too! Score!
These unexpected European destinations will give you a serious case of wanderlust, and will have you packing your bags, booking a flight, and discovering the great unknown this year.  
1. Kosovo
Prizren is a must-visit city. (Photo: Travel Freedom Network)
Kosovo, in particular the city of Prizren, is our new favorite spot in Europe. When we were there in November, winter was approaching and the days were becoming colder. But even so, the people were still out enjoying the limited hours of sunshine they had every single day. We discovered locals drinking coffee in the numerous coffee shops around town, restaurants full every night, and bars offering cheap drinks and a chilled atmosphere.
A must-see is the view from the Kalaja Fortress.  If it’s a nice day bring a picnic and hang out with the locals, many of whom are happy to chat with foreigners.
What to eat: Try pljeskavica, grilled meat stuffed with cheese. We had this dish at Te Syla restaurant and it is seriously the best in town — so good we went back the next day and had it again! The prices is less than five dollars, and many restaurants serve it with salad and fries.
Pljeskavica stuffed with cheese is a delicious and inexpensive meal. (Photo: Travel Freedom Network)
Fun fact: Kosovo is the youngest country of the 21st century. It officially declared independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008.
2. Albania
If you want the beauty of the Greek islands with a more affordable price tag - then book that plane ticket to Albania today. (Photo: Travel Freedom Network)
We visited Tirana and Shkodra, but the coastal towns of the ‘Albanian Riviera’ are a popular place to visit during the warmer months. This country is jam-packed with so much natural beauty it would be a shame to leave it off any European trip. The people are all welcoming, and go above and beyond to help any foreigners in need of assistance.
Cheap eats: one buck for a rice pilaf dish. (Photo: Travel Freedom Network)
What to eat: Veal appears to be the specialty of Albania — or 'the baby cow’ as it is usually described. We recommend giving the Albanian pilaf a try, rice cooked in seasoned broth. It usually costs around $1 for a small serving.
Fun facct: Albania, Armenia, Macedonia, and Vatican City are the only European countries without a McDonald’s branch.
3. Republic of Macedonia
Skopje is a beautiful European capital city. (Photo: Travel Freedom Network)
The first thing to realize is that there are two Macedonias in Europe. In fact they are side by side. One is the the Republic of Macedonia (sometimes called the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia or FYROM), and the other is a region of Greece. It’s best not to get these mixed up — otherwise you might encounter some rather upset locals. 
We visited the capital of the Republic of Macedonia, Skopje, and though it is a city under construction, it’s still beautiful to visit. It’s going to be incredible once it’s finished. You can wander the streets admiring the architecture and art bridges, or head into the Old Bazaar or Bit Pazar area to get a taste of the local market scene.
Macedonian food is well worth trying, even though it seemed to us that most locals were more interested in international cuisine. (Photo: Travel Freedom Network)
What to eat: Make sure you try pastrmajlija — this is a fried dough pie that is covered with salted and cubed meat pieces and sometimes cheese or egg. Often you’ll get a couple so chili peppers on top as well. The dish is so tasty there’s even a festival for it every fall. A small serving cost around $3 and fed both of us!
Fun fact: Of all the Yugoslav territories, Macedonia is the only one that gained independence peacefully.
4. Montenegro
Montenegro offers beautiful coastlines, stunning mountains, and historic old towns. (Photo: Travel Freedom Network)
One of the fastest growing tourist destinations in the Balkans, Montenegro offers beautiful coastlines, stunning mountains, and historic old towns to explore. Whilst not as cheap as some other Balkan destinations, you can certainly still get some bang for your buck if you go about it the right way. In the summer months prices go through the roof, but come during the off season and prices of accommodation can sometimes be negotiated.
Food: Seafood, especially squid known as lignje, is popular in Montenegro. Due to its positioning there is also a lot of Italian influence in local cooking, with Turkish coming in a close second place. The cuisine also revolves around fresh produce including olive oil, olives, and cheese — all of which are divine.
Seafood and fresh produce dominate dishes in Montenegro. (Photo: Travel Freedom Network)
Fun fact: Montenegro features in the James Bond movie Casino Royale — but in name only. Bond supposedly bullet trains to the small European country and then joins a high-stakes poker tournament at a hotel there. But the filming was actually done in the Czech Republic.
5. Romania
Impress your friends: tour Dracula’s castle, a.k.a. Bran Castle. (Photo: Travel Freedom Network)
We spent close to four months living in Bucharest in 2015, and we fell in love. The people are friendly, the countryside is captivating, and it doesn’t hurt that the cost of living is quite reasonable. Plus, being able to say you’ve visited Dracula’s castle will make you instantly cool with your friends — trust us.
What to eat: When heading out for a meal in Romania know this: You will never leave the restaurant hungry. Romanian food is incredible, and the portion sizes are insane. 
Prepare to be stuffed. But save room for papanasi, a fried pastry filled with cheese or jam. (Photo: Travel Freedom Network)
Make sure you try the grilled minced-meat rolls called mititei (meaning “small ones”). We also liked sarmale, which is minced meat with rice wrapped in either pickled cabbage leaves or vine leaves; it’s served with a few slices of ham or bacon and a nice big helping of polenta. For dessert, order papanasi, a boiled/fried donut of sorts that’s been smothered in jam and cream — heavenly.
Fun fact: In 1889 the Romanian city ofTimisoara became the first in Europe to have electric street lighting.
So there you have it, Europe’s best off-the-beaten-path destinations to visit in 2016. I recommend adding these countries to your itinerary straight away, and as soon as possible too — they won’t be quite so 'unvisited’ in the coming years. 

Destinations Everyone Will Be Talking About in 2016

Places that should be on the top of your list to visit in 2016.
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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

How to Spend One Week in Albania 2016

How to Spend One Week in Albania

Albania is one of the most memorable places we have visited in Europe to date. It’s a country that has a ton to offer, but which is oddly overlooked. Hopefully, if you have read some of our past posts about Albania, you will find yourself tempted to visit this interesting little Balkin country. And if you do, this itinerary will make sure you visit all the best spots.

One Week in Albania

We visited Albania in the winter. We didn’t visit any of the sea side towns, although this itinerary does include a stop of the seaside town of Saranda (we drove though, but didn’t stop). Even though we did not visit any of the seaside towns, we have heard from other travellers that they really enjoyed their experience there.

Day 1 and 2 – Tirana

Tirana, the capitol of Albania is the best place to start your trip in Albania. The main city is the best place to start to familiarize yourself with Albanian culture, food and history. It is also the best place to start planning the logistics of your up coming trip. Will you take furgons or rent a car? You will need to make your choice in Tirana.
The view from the Gjirokaster castle
The view from the Gjirokaster castle

Day 3 – Berat

Heading south from Tirana, the first place of interest you will come upon is Berat. This is the first of the three Albanian UNESCO sites that you will visit. The town is characterized by the castle on the top of the hill, and has some of the best restaurants we found in Albania. It is a great place to wonder around in and you can easily spend a day here.

Day 4 – Gjirokaster

The next UNESCO site you will visit is Gjirokaster. Both Gjirokaster and Berat are listed with UNESCO for the same reason, and yet both towns have very different atmosphere’s. Gjirokaster also has a castle on top of a hill, but it isn’t the highlight of the town. The highlight of a visit to Gjirokaster is exploring the narrow, winding streets and touring the historic houses from the Ottoman period. For the whole experience, choose a hotel that is situated in one of these historic homes.

Day 5 – Saranda

Saranda is a quiet seaside town south of Gjirokaster. It was winter when we visited, and this sleepy town was even sleepier. We didn’t stop, but we wished we had, as the drive from Berat – Butrint – Gjirokaster was epic and something we would not recommend trying to do in one day!
If Saranda is not your style, or if you are also visiting in winter, then we recommend choosing either Gjirokaster or Berat and spending an extra day there.
Albania Itinerary

Day 6 – Butrint

Butrint is my favourite UNESCO world heritage site in Albania. It’s a beautiful, ruined village, claimed by Virgil to have once been the home of the Trojans. I loved Butrint. The flooded theatre, the moss covered fortifications, the quiet lake surrounding it…. Butrint is like a fairytale spot.

Day 7 – Onward to Athens, or head back to Tirana

Depending on where you are headed to next, you may either want to set off early for the long drive back to Tirana. Or perhaps you will jump on an international bus bound for Athens. Which ever direction you head, your holiday in Albania will not be something you will soon forgethttp://ouroyster.com/how-to-spend-one-week-in-albania/