Transportation within Kosovo

I thought it would be helpful to give a summary of how to get in/out and around Kosovo for future travelers and potential Peace Corps Volunteers.

Prishtina International Airport (PRN)

This airport is located outside of Kosovo’s capital, Prishtina. It is small.

Flight prices tend to be the highest in July and August, because that is when the Kosovar Diaspora (those living abroad) return to Kosovo for about a month to see their families. In the winter prices are the cheapest, but this is not the best time weather-wise to visit Kosovo.

As an example, my round-trip flight from Chicago to Prishtina in late September was $580 and in March it was $530. I’ve seen prices as low as $450 in the winter. July and August prices triple, costing about $1,500 from Chicago.

My favorite months in Kosovo are September-October and April-June. These months have mild weather and people are out and about without things being overly crowded.

Getting to the city center is simple, but expensive compared to most transportation costs in Kosovo. A taxi ride from the airport to anywhere in Prishtina should cost 15€, but the taxi drivers frequently try to charge up to 30€. If you hold your ground and insist on paying 15€, they will eventually relent. Tipping is not necessary, but a tip of 2-4 Euros is definitely appreciated, especially if you have bags. The trip takes approximately 20 minutes.

Most taxi drivers do not speak English, so make sure you have the address of where you are going to give to them.

Apparently there is a bus to/from the airport, but I’ve never used it. It only goes to the airport at 10:30 AM and 2:35 PM, so those times never lined up for me.

Buses

14523125_318042468555432_8824404030102293907_n (2)You can get almost everywhere in Kosovo by bus. The buses are also quite comfortable, except on hot summer days.

Buses are timely and pretty easy to figure out, even if you do not speak Albanian. The name of the destination and time of departure will be posted on a sign in the front window of the bus. This is the Prishtina bus station’s website: Stacioni i Autobuseve.

I also used this website to figure out bus times while living in Kosovo: Balkan Viator. It is pretty accurate for western cities in Kosovo, but less accurate for eastern cities. Many PCVs, especially those in the east, found this site the most reliable: Gjirafa.

Here is a map of the bus costs from Prishtina to most major cities:

Bus prices in Kosovo

How to Buy Tickets/Pay:

You do not need to purchase bus tickets in advance or make reservations. Simply hop on the bus, find a seat, and wait for the driver’s assistant to walk around and collect money. This typically happens ∼10 minutes into the drive.

When the driver’s assistant comes around, simply say the name of the city you are traveling to and hand him the money. If you are under 30 and say “student” when you pay, you will likely get a discount of 50 cents or a Euro. No need to show a student ID.

You must pay in cash. Smaller bills are preferred. If you try to pay with a bill larger than a 20, they will give you a glare and may not have change. The assistant will probably give you a receipt. This is your ticket, but there is no need to display it anywhere. Sometimes they will not even give you a ticket, because they can just remember who has paid.

In the summer months buses get PACKED, so be sure to hop the bus early enough to get a seat. After the seats are gone people will cram into the aisles and stand. Almost all of the buses do not have air-conditioning, so be warned that traveling by bus in the summer is miserable. It also gets quite stinky. If you must travel by bus in the summer, try to take the buses early in the morning or after dark.

If you are traveling outside of Kosovo, like to a city in Albania, you usually need to make reservations in advance. Most cities have small travel agencies near their bus station where you can buy tickets. A round-trip ticket to many cities along the beach in Albania only costs 8-10€.

Directions from the Bus Station to the City Center:

The Prishtina bus station is outside of the city center, so it can be difficult to find your way on foot the first time. There are plenty of taxis waiting at the bus station and a trip to the center should only cost about 3 or 4€. Me and Bill (2).jpg

Walking to the center takes 20-30 minutes and takes you past the beloved Bill Clinton statue, so I recommend saving your Euros for macchiatos and going on foot! There are no signs to direct you, but you can easily follow the people walking into the city.

Here are basic walking directions from the bus station into the city: Pass under the small bridge and go up the stairs leading toward the apartment buildings. Follow the curving road that passes between the apartment buildings. This will take you to the main road that leads into the city.

Be sure to wave at Bill as you pass!

What do volunteers DO in the summer?

As a Peace Corps Volunteer in the education sector, my job during the school year is obviously teaching. But what about the summer?

The school year in Kosovo is similar to most schools in the US. All schools here start on September 1st and most end in mid-June, but the end of the school year depends on the student’s age. That leaves two and a half months where we are not teaching.

So do we have all summer off? Do we just sit around sipping Kosovo’s world-renowned macchiatos?

Of course it depends on the volunteer, but these are the main ways TEFL volunteers in Kosovo fill their time in June, July, and August:

TravelTravel periods

Education PCVs are limited with when they can take their vacation days, so many volunteers use the summer to visit the U.S. or to travel. We can only travel during school breaks, but that excludes the first summer of training and the last summer before we leave Kosovo. So the summer at our halfway point is the perfect time to use our annual leave and travel.

Some volunteers are using their vacation days in one giant chunk, backpacking Europe for a few weeks. I decided to split up my allotted leave into several trips, saving days for winter break and next spring break. So this summer I’ve got a few little trips planned, one each month:

  1. Berlin Solo Trip (June)
  2. Albania with my host family (July)
  3. Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro (August)

To learn about how vacation days work in the Peace Corps, check out this post.

Summer Camps

Several volunteers decided to plan a week-long summer camp at their site. Many of us signed up to help at these camps throughout Kosovo. The camps have been a major success and have had themes ranging from global citizenship to health/fitness to environmental awareness.

Earlier this month I helped out at a camp in a small village where another volunteer lives. The focus of the camp was being a global citizen and taking care of the environment. Even though the village is surrounded by beautiful mountains, most of the children had never been hiking before. The highlight of the camp was taking about 60 of the kids on a hike up into the mountains with a stunning view  of their village from above.

The summer camps are not only beneficial for the kids, but they provide a chance for us to see other volunteers’ communities around the country. In addition to summer camps, many PCVs are running English clubs or working on grant writing.

Helping with Pre-Service Training for the new volunteers

Several PCVs are also leading training sessions for the K3s (Kosovo’s third group of volunteers). Pre-Service Training begins in early June and lasts about 11 weeks, taking place in Eastern Kosovo around the town of Kamenice. (Check out my post about training to learn more.) So far all of the Kosovo PCVs have been in the Education sector, but we just had our first group of 10 Community Development volunteers arrive this summer. Kosovo map label

Because the Peace Corps Kosovo program is so new, training materials and sessions are still being developed, and current staff and volunteers are playing a significant role in this process. Over the next few years our PST schedule and curriculum will continue to evolve.

Sadly I live on the opposite side of Kosovo, so I have not had the chance to meet the new volunteers yet. But in August I will be leading a training session and can finally meet them!

I also found out that two new volunteers will be placed in or near Gjakova, so I’ll have a couple other Americans to share my site with!

How does vacation work in the Peace Corps?

Many people imagine that being in the Peace Corps is just two years of wandering the globe, and it typically attracts people who love to travel. In reality, 95% of your service will be spent in the same village or city.

If you have a hard time staying in the same place for too long, Peace Corps service may not be for you. Serving in the Peace Corps is similar to a normal full-time job in that we are given limited vacation days.

If you are interested in how I spent my vacation days while serving in the Peace Corps, check out these posts and pictures from my trips:

Below I’ve listed a few of the most common questions related to travel while in the Peace Corps. Feel free to ask any additional questions in the comments section!

How many vacation days do you receive?

As a Peace Corps Volunteer we are allotted 48 days of leave throughout our 27 months of service. We earn two vacation days per month of service, not counting the three months of training.

When can you use vacation days? Travel periods.png

Volunteers are not allowed to use their vacation days during Pre-Service Training (months 1-3), the first three months at their permanent site (months 4-6), or during the final three months of service (months 25-27).

Depending on your work, there may be additional restrictions. As volunteers in the education sector, we can only use our annual leave during school breaks. For this reason most of us travel during winter break, spring break, or during the summer after our first school year.

In the case of an important event, such as the wedding of an immediate family member, the Country Director may approve travel during the school year. (Hopefully that will be the case with my brother’s wedding in September!)

Do PCVs travel back to the United States?

Yes. I’d estimate that the majority of PCVs travel back home at least once. In our group most volunteers have taken or plan to take one trip back to America during their service. It may be different in other Peace Corps countries, but Kosovo is pretty easy to get to. In the winter months flights are $500-$700 round-trip to many U.S. cities. In the summer the prices go up to $900-$1200.

Can volunteers travel anywhere they want?

No. The Peace Corps restricts travel to some countries based on safety concerns. Examples include Turkey due to recent terrorist attacks.

How does travel approval work?

We must submit a travel request form at least two weeks in advance, although some exceptions are made. This form must list the dates of travel, the cities you are visiting, and must be signed by you and your work supervisor at site, such as the director of your school.

Can volunteers travel within Kosovo as much as they want?

This may be different in other Peace Corps countries, but because Kosovo is so tiny (about the size of Connecticut) we are pretty free to travel within the country.

We are, however, required to notify Peace Corps staff if we are spending a night away from our site. If you spend too much time visiting other volunteers or in the capital, you may receive a warning from staff. Ideally you should not spend more than a couple nights per month away from your village/city.

What about work-related travel or emergencies? 

In September I was asked to be a chaperone for my school’s 12th grade trip to Albania. Because this was with my students and approved by my school director, the Peace Corps counted it as work-related leave. You can read about the trip here: The ugly truth behind a beautiful photo. (Spoiler alert: Traveling with over 100 teenagers and teachers who don’t speak English during my first month at site was a challenge.)

In case of an emergency, such as the death of an immediate family member, the Peace Corps will fly you to the U.S. for up to two weeks of emergency leave.

If you want to read more about the policies related to Peace Corps travel, click on this PDF: Leave Policies for Volunteers and Trainees

Waterfalls in Kosovo

As I’ve mentioned many times before, Kosovo possesses a lot of natural beauty. (Have I convinced you to come visit yet??)Kosovo mirusha white drin waterfalls

As the weather has gotten nicer my host family has taken me on a few memorable outings to see some of their favorite sites and to learn about the culture of Kosovo. This included celebrating St. George’s Day in a nearby village, where we witnessed hundreds of sheep being sacrificed and a giant regional feast. Fortunately we’ve also had some outings that are a little less… intense.

Two of my favorite family field trips this spring have been seeing Kosovo’s waterfalls.

In March we visited the White Drin Waterfall, which is located near the city of Peja.

The waterfall is 82 feet (25 m) high and is located at the mouth of the White Drin river. The area is surrounded with beautiful mountainous scenery, including a cave that can be explored in the summer months.

In the summer the waterfall is surrounded by lush green scenery, but when we visited the first signs of spring were just starting to show. In many ways that made the vibrant blue color of the waterfall even more striking. The water was incredibly clear.

It was also a great time to visit because there were not many visitors. In the warmer months the waterfall is a very popular destination. We spent the day hiking around the waterfall, taking pictures, and of course taking a break to make Turkish coffee in the park. It is not an outing in Kosovo without at least one coffee break.


Last weekend we visited Mirusha Waterfall in central Kosovo. This site is actually a series of seven major waterfalls located in a 6 mile-long canyon with 13 lakes separated by the waterfalls. Unfortunately we did not have time to see all of them because it takes a few hours to hike the length of the canyon, and it was a very hot day.

The canyon also includes several caves. Mirusha Park is one of the most popular sites in Kosovo, and because the weather was hot and sunny when we visited it was more crowded than the White Drin Waterfall. A lot of people also swim in the lake located below the largest waterfall, which is 72 feet (22 m) high. Although the water was very cold, several people were swimming and jumping from the waterfall while we had our picnic.

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Enjoying a picnic with a perfect view of the brave souls jumping from the waterfall.

Because it was such a hot day, I was extremely tempted to jump into the water. My host sisters and I finally decided to go for a swim with our clothes on, but host dad stopped us. This ended up being for the best, because I later read that the water in Mirusha has been known to cause infections. Visitors are advised to avoid contact with the water during the spring because the water often becomes contaminated after the snow melts.

Unlike the water of the White Drin, the Mirusha River’s water is more greenish-brown. But it is still a beautiful site, especially with the white and pinkish canyon walls surrounding the lakes. I’d still consider going for a swim if we visit later in the summer. Not so sure about jumping from the waterfall though…

A surprise spring break in Paradise

In April the students in Kosovo enjoy a week off from school, so many volunteers took the opportunity to travel. I ended up spending the week exploring Albania and Macedonia, and it was a truly breathtaking trip. Trip Map with buses

This is a region of the world that few Americans ever explore, and let me tell you, we’ve been missing out. The coastline along the Adriatic and Ionian Seas possesses a Mediterranean climate and is lined with white, sandy beaches. The dramatic mountain ranges, including the Albanian Alps, allow for magnificent hikes in the warmer months and skiing in the winter. The long and complex history of the region has left it sprinkled with ancient fortresses and castles, Ottoman architecture and bazaars, archaeological sites from the Hellenistic period, and Medieval monasteries and mosques .

Best of all, travel in the Balkans is unbelievably cheap. Even flights to Albania, Macedonia, or Kosovo are half the price of flights to neighboring countries like Greece. So listen to my advice and come explore the Balkans! Your camera and pocketbook will thank me.

Rather than rambling on about why you should visit, let me show you some of the sites from my week-long trip:

Tirana: The capital and largest city in Albania

Bus from Gjakova to Tirana:  $11

Tirana is the most modern city in Albania and is known for its nightlife. I took an early morning bus to meet up with the other travelers who had arrived in Tirana a day prior, so I did not get to experience a night out in Tirana, but they definitely had a good time.

We spent the day exploring the city on foot, tasting olives in the market, and feasting on fresh seafood. My camera was packed away, so I didn’t get the chance to take any pictures. We then boarded a bus to the city of Berat.

Bus from Tirana to Berat: $3.25

Berat –This city is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it is a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town. It is known as one of the most beautiful towns in the Balkans and is referred to as the “town of a thousand windows.”

We checked into a hostel called Lorenc Guesthouse, which was optimally located in the heart of the old city. It was the most picturesque hostel I have ever stayed in. The owner was so hospitable and offered us free Turkish coffee and tea repeatedly, in addition to giving us samples of his homemade wine and rakia. It was about $10 each and included a delicious hot breakfast.

After spending our first evening walking around the city of Berat and resting at our hostel, we woke up ready to do some hiking. We climbed up to the fortress overlooking the city, called The Kala. It is a castle with origins back to the 4th century BC, but it was mostly built in the 13th century. The hike was a great way to wake up and we were rewarded with stunning views of Berat from above.

Saranda

From Berat we took another bus to the city of Saranda in southern Albania. This city is a major tourist destination in the summer, but for us in April it was extremely quiet. We stayed for two nights so that we could see two of Albania’s most well-known sites: The Blue Eye and Butrint. (We also ate tons of fresh seafood, which we’ve been missing in Kosovo.)

Bus from Berat to Saranda $9.75
Accommodations: SR Backpackers Hostel $11 with free laundry and free breakfast

The Blue Eye

The Blue Eye is a water spring, where clear blue water from the river bubbles up at a rate of 18400 liters per second from an extremely deep pool. The exact depth of the hole is unknown, but divers have descended to fifty meters (164 feet). It is a breathtaking natural phenomenon. The lush trees and purple flowers, combined with the vibrant color of the water, made us feel like we were walking in a fairy-tale. 

Butrint (also known as Buthrotum)- $5 entry fee

Butrint, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was an ancient city throughout Greek, Roman, bishopric and Byzantine periods. It was inhabited since prehistoric times, but was finally abandoned during the Middle Ages due to a malaria epidemic caused by the marshes surrounding it.

Despite Butrint being one of the greatest classical cities of the Mediterranean, for some reason it remains largely unknown. The current archaeological site includes an impressive Roman amphitheater, a Roman temple with mosaic floor, and a Byzantine Basilica, which is the largest in the world after Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Since 2005 an international archaeological team has been performing excavations at Butrint, and archaeologists estimate that what we can see now is just 15 percent of what lies beneath.

Because we were so close to the border with Greece, we decided to drive to the border and walk into Greece, just for fun. The border guards were very confused about what we were doing. Although we didn’t see much, we can technically say we’ve been to Greece.

The most life-threatening drive of my life: Saranda to Korca $8.00

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The road is so perilous and winding that you save over 2 hours by driving through Greece, even though it is almost twice the distance.

After our second night in Saranda, we woke up at 4:45 AM to catch a 5:30 AM mini-bus to Macedonia. We knew it would be a 7 or 8 hour trip, but we had no idea that we would be driving on the most dangerous road in the Balkans. The journey takes you high into the mountains, driving along narrow and winding roads, many of which are not paved, and all of which are without guard rails. We were honestly driving along sheer rock faces, bouncing around in the seats and trying not to throw up for 80% of the trip.

If you enjoy living on the edge, take this trip. I wish I had not packed my camera for the drive, because you would not believe how crazy this road is.

From Korca we took a taxi to the border crossing into Macedonia, got our passports stamped, and then hopped in another taxi to the city of Ohrid, just 20 minutes away. The taxis cost us just a few dollars each.

Ohrid

Ohrid is a large town in southwestern Macedonia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, due to it being one of the oldest human settlements in all of Europe. The town is first mentioned in Greek documents from 353 BC.

In addition to its historic significance, Ohrid is known for its astounding beauty, tucked between high mountains and Lake Ohrid, which is over three million years old. It is the deepest lake of the Balkans, with a maximum depth of 288 meters or 940 feet.

Sadly our only day in Ohrid was very rainy, but we still explored the city and visited the ancient castle known as Samuel’s Fortress.

Skopje -Matka Canyon

Matka Canyon is located west of Skopje, the capital of Macedonia and covers about 5,000 hectares. It is home to several medieval churches, monasteries and remnants of a fortress. There are also dozens of caves to explore, and many visitors enjoy kayaking in the Treska River or on peaceful Lake Matka. We spent all of our time there hiking up to St. Nicholas Monastery, which is located on a cliff and dates back to at least the 1600s.

This place left such an impression that I am making a point to see it again before I leave the Balkans.

My spring break concluded with a short bus ride back to Kosovo. This trip left me in awe of the natural beauty of the Balkans, and I immediately began telling family and friends to come visit for their next vacation.

If you would like to see more travel pictures, check out my Instagram or read about my budget trip to Germany & Austria for Christmas!

Christmas in Germany

Leaving PrishtinaOne of the benefits of living in the Balkans is that you have the rest of Europe at your fingertips. Over winter break another PCV and I decided to plan a trip to Germany, and it ended up being one of the most memorable trips of my life. Germany is a magical destination for Christmas.

Even though we traveled on a Peace Corps Volunteer’s budget, we were able to travel all over southern Germany by train and see several of the most famous sites. I included a breakdown of our spending with a total trip cost at the bottom of the post, in case you are curious. I also summarized how we spent each day, but feel free to just view the pictures!

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The view of the Rugova Mountains while  leaving Kosovo.

Day 1: Arrival in Munich

Munich is considered one of the Christmas capitals of the world, largely because of the number of Christmas markets found in the city. I have always wanted to visit Germany, and the flight prices there were surprisingly cheap, so we started our trip by flying to Munich on December 21st.

We then took the train into the city center (after figuring out how to use the ticket machine) and navigated our way to the 4-You Youth Hostel. After checking-in we immediately set out to explore the city!

I was blown away by the beauty of Munich. The smell of mulled wine, gingerbread, and cinnamon saturates the air, and everywhere you look there are handcrafted ornaments and Christmas decorations. The architecture was stunning as well. We stepped into a few churches to listen to the choirs and light prayer candles. I wish I could experience Christmas in Germany every year.

Flight= 87€ or $98 (including bags)
Train= 11.15€ or $12.50 (unlimited day pass for public
transportation, including the train from the airport)

Hostel= 13€ or $14.60 (with free breakfast)

 

Day 2: Train to Salzburg, Austria

starbucks portraitThe next day we traveled by train to Salzburg, Austria, home of Mozart and the filming location for The Sound of Music. Before departing we took the opportunity to enjoy a Starbucks Christmas drink at the beautiful Munich train station.

The weather could not have been more beautiful, so we explored all of Salzburg on foot from morning until after dark. Between the Christmas markets, the peaceful Salzach River, the view of the Alps, and the historic castles and palaces, Salzburg did not disappoint. When we finally hopped on an evening train we realized that we had not sat down the entire day.

Train to & from Austria= 14€ or $15.70 (unlimited daily
train travel in Bavaria and select Austrian cities)

Hostel= 13€ or $14.60 (with free breakfast)

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Salzburg gate
The entrance to the gardens of Mirabell Palace, where “Do Re Mi” in The Sound of Music was filmed.
Salzburg fountain 2
The famous fountain from “Do -Re-Mi” in the gardens of Mirabell Palace.

 

Day 3: Medieval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber

 

On our third day we traveled to northern Bavaria to Germany’s most well-preserved medieval town, which is still encircled by its 14th century stone wall. I can not speak highly enough of this romantic little town. It is transformed into a Christmas wonderland for December, but with the brightly painted buildings and narrow cobblestone streets, it is worth seeing at any time of the year.

While in Rothenburg we stayed at a charming hostel, which we had almost entirely to ourselves. Naturally we explored the famous Christmas market and walked along the city walls. We also discovered a shop that sells medieval weapons, clothing, and basically anything related to Lord of the Rings, Dungeons and Dragons, and Game of Thrones. We spent a decent chunk of time playing dress up and exploring the hidden dungeon in the basement.

IMG_3385After wandering through this Christmas-postcard town, we enjoyed an authentic German meal of pork-knuckle with dumplings and sauerkraut, served with the best German beer I have ever had. We finished with an apple strudel dessert and complimentary Christmas brandy.

Train= 14€ or $15.70 (unlimited daily train travel in Bavaria)
Hostel= 25€ or $28 (with coffee, tea, cookies, & free breakfast)

21 BEST

Day 4: Christmas Eve in Nuremberg

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One of the many sunsets we viewed on the German Rail.

On the morning of Christmas Eve we explored Rothenburg some more, taking photos while most of the tourists slept in. We then boarded a train to Nuremberg, the second largest city in Bavaria . The city is known for its medieval architecture as well as its significance in Nazi Germany.

On a happier note, Nuremberg is also home to one of the oldest and largest Christmas markets in the world. While walking through the city I enjoyed the best bratwurst I have ever eaten. The sky was also strikingly blue, making the perfect backdrop for Nuremberg’s famous churches. Although we enjoyed Nuremberg, we were both relieved when we hopped on the train back to Munich and escaped the pushy crowds.

Train= 14€ or $15.70 (unlimited daily train travel in Bavaria & select cities in Austria)
Hostel= 21€ or $23.60 (We moved to the Wombat Hostel for Christmas Eve and Christmas, because it is the best hostel in Munich and we decided to treat ourselves for the holidays rather than stay in a cheaper hostel.)

Day 5: Christmas Day at Dachau Concentration CampIMG_3505 (3)

On Christmas I took the train to Dachau to visit the first Nazi concentration camp, which is open to the public and includes a Holocaust museum. I spent hours exploring the grounds and walking through the museum located in the camp.  This was easily the most sobering Christmas I have ever experienced. It prompted a lot of reflection on the problem of evil and how to reconcile that with the goodness of God. Overall it was a very contemplative Christmas.

Train= 7.40€ or $8.30 (unlimited daily train
travel within the greater Munich area)

Hostel= 21€ or $23.60 

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Day 6: Train to Neuschwanstein CastleCastle close (2)

One of the most popular tourist attractions in Bavaria is Neuschwanstein Castle. After discovering that we could travel to the village near the castle with our train passes, we decided to go on our last day in Germany.

Two guys we met at the hostel were amazed that we could visit the castle for only 9€ roundtrip, so they decided to come along.
A group of Australians also wanted to join, so we made plans to take a train on Saturday morning.

That morning we rushed to get ready, checked out of the hostel, and waited for the Australians outside of our hostel. They were not showing up, and it was getting closer and closer to our train’s departure time, so finally we had to leave without them. We had to run from the hostel and sprint through the train station, jumping on the train at the last possible moment. It felt like we were on The Amazing Race.Walk BEST

After a couple hours on the train we arrived in the village of Füssen, took a bus to the village of Hohenschwangau (gotta love these German names, huh?) and then we began the 40 minute hike up to the castle. A lot of tourists think that you need to buy a ticket to see the castle, but the ticket is only necessary if you want a 30 minute tour of the inside of the castle. And guess what? The inside of the castle was never finished, so there is not much to see, and you are prohibited from taking pictures. On top of this, the line for tickets was over 1.5 hours long. Visitors and free to explore the castle grounds as much as they please for free. Waterfall BEST

After we walked around the castle we decided to find a different way back down. We ended up hiking through the woods for a few hours. It felt like wandering through a fairy-tale, especially when we discovered the most stunning view of the castle.

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View1 BEST (2)

2016-03-17 (35)This ended up being the most picturesque day of our trip, and we only paid 9€ ($10) for it. Most tourists to Neuschwanstein Castle pay about $100 for the train and castle tour, but it is possible to do it for much less. If you ever visit Germany, seeing Neuschwanstein is a MUST. It may be touristy, but it is popular for a reason. Just don’t be afraid to do some exploratory hiking away from the crowds.

Train= 9€ or $10.15 (unlimited daily train travel in Bavaria, reduced from 14€ because we traveled with a group of four instead of two)

Day 7: Overnight bus through Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia

Yes, we took a bus through six countries instead of flying. Was it fun? No. Was it cheaper? YES.

It also saved us money on a hostel because our bus first bus departed at 11:00 PM. After a full day of hiking through Bavaria and seeing Neuschwanstein, we arrived back in Munich and went out to eat, enjoying some delicious Thai food while we had the chance. We tried making the most of every last minute in Germany, so unfortunately we had to sprint to the bus station, getting the last seats after being yelled at by the bus driver. But we made it.

The bus ride was long, uncomfortable, and involved frequent border stops, where we had to stand outside and have our documents checked repeatedly. Not fun.

Finally we arrived in Belgrade, so sleep-deprived and hungry that we both nearly passed out while trying to decipher the Cyrillic street signs and find our hostel. I guess our one-meal-a-day policy may not have mixed well with hiking all day and then staying awake all night. But it was a memorable experience.

After a shower and a short nap we decided to explore Belgrade, eating dinner at the best organic vegan restaurant I’ve ever been to! (Who would have thought it’d be in Serbia?) After returning to the hostel we slept like rocks.

Bus to Croatia= 30€ ($33),  Bus to Serbia= 27€ ($30),  Hostel= 10€ ($11)

Day 8: Return to Kosovo

The next afternoon it was back to Kosovo! As much as we were burnt-out on bus travel, the 6.5 hour trip seemed manageable after our previous bus marathon.

Bus back to Kosovo= 20€ ($22.50)


All told, I was able to see and do a lot in Germany on a Peace Corps Volunteer budget! The total for flights, hostels, admission tickets, trains, public transportation, and busing back to Kosovo was 336.55€ or about $379.81.

For food we kept things very cheap, generally spending 10€ per day. We cut down on food costs by booking hostels that included breakfast and by packing snacks to munch on during the day. We only ate out for dinner. We also spent about 4-6€ on treats at the Christmas markets each day, such as a glass of glühwein (mulled wine), bratwurst, or candied almonds. In total we spent less than $500 each. Forgive me for bragging, but by the end of the trip I was pretty impressed with us.

For more travel pictures and tips, check out my trip through Albania & Macedonia for spring break!

Free trip home for Christmas? Yes, please!

Because I’ll be serving in the Peace Corps, this was the last Christmas I could spend with my family for three years. When I realized that this would be the case, I decided that a trip to the Lower 48 for Christmas was a non-negotiable.

Galena temp
The temperature one lovely winter morning: -50.1 degrees F

The cost? Winter flights to Minnesota from Galena run at about $2,100.

I am normally a penny pincher, but being stuck in a village for 10 months gives me cabin fever. No stores, no restaurants, no new faces. Add to that the 21 hours of darkness and -50 degree temperatures. A trip out of Alaska is almost psychologically necessary.

Fortunately I happened to have saved up over 100,000 Delta miles and 29,000 Alaska Airlines miles, largely thanks to their respective credit cards. These are the flights I was able to buy with my miles:

  • Galena to Anchorage (roundtrip) for 32,500 miles (normally $740-$920)
  • Anchorage to Minneapolis (roundtrip) for 40,000 miles (the cheapest flight was $1,350)

Because of my Alaska residence and Delta card, I also received two free checked bags on all of my flights. In Anchorage my flight to Minneapolis was overbooked, so I volunteered to be bumped to a later flight in exchange for a $400 flight voucher, plus a free hotel stay. Sadly, they ended up having room for me on the flight, but as a token of gratitude they gave me coupons for several free drinks on any Delta flight.

I must say, I felt like a pretty savvy traveler.