Eastern Europe

Country #97 - Bulgaria

The Airport Sprint

When I arrived in Lisbon, Portugal from Praia, Cape Verde it was about 7am and only my first of three flights of the day. There was a very long immigration line that took about an hour, and then I had to change terminals in Lisbon from the nice terminal to the dingy low-cost carrier terminal. Of course, this isn’t an easy process. You have to completely exit customs and then the airport itself just to change terminals. Going back through security took a while again but I was finally to my gate, this time to head to Frankfurt.

I would just be flying through Frankfurt to get to Sofia, Bulgaria and I knew that it would be a very quick connection time. It didn’t help matters that my plane leaving Lisbon ended up being about thirty minutes late. It was quite the long flight for continental Europe at about three hours. It was so long that I had to break down and pay for food on the plane! When I arrived in Frankfurt I had to take a bus to the terminal as almost always in Europe, but this ride was especially interesting as there had been a wreck between another bus and a baggage carrier. There were ambulances and fire trucks everywhere, but it looked like thankfully everything was fine - there were just tons of precautions! From this minor slowdown forward my nightmare of running through Frankfurt began.

When I finally arrived at the terminal I had 15 minutes in which time I cleared immigration, went through security, and ran for 15 minutes straight. I was dying with all of my luggage and my winter coat and drenched in sweat. I arrived at the boarding gate right when the gate was about to close. The bus was still there - the driver was standing right by the gate agent. I was about to pass out from my sprint. The gate agent told me that it was too late - which was not true as I had about a minute to spare before the gate was to technically close, and the bus was right there! Obviously, it wasn’t true, as after about 30 seconds of my panting from exhaustion he decided to let me on.

This was great! I was so appreciative that he decided to let me on. I began to apologize profusely, at which time my airline ordeal became much, much worse. Just to preface this, I have flown so much this past year, and have never had such a bad experience with an employee of any capacity within the travel agency. This Wizz Airlines employee absolutely went off on me. He told me that no, I was not sorry, or else this would not have happened. He told me that there was no way that I was sorry or I wouldn’t have been late. I tried very sincerely to apologize but every time I said sorry he would continue to mock me and tell me that I was not sorry. Which I obviously was! I hated being late and having to run - it’s not like I decided to do it for fun.

The problems only continued from there. I was now very upset from how he had treated me, but I was on the bus and ready to go. However, while waiting for the bus to go I looked inside and saw the gate agent making fun of me to four or five colleagues! He was mimicking my breathing and then mimicked my apology. It was horrible and I was pretty furious at this point. Like I said, I have never been treated so badly let alone by an airline but as a customer in any industry. I was sincerely sorry and after being mocked to my face I was then made fun of in plain view! It’s like the employee forgot glass and existed and that I could see everything that he was doing.

Anyways, this was an absolutely horrible experience and I wrote to Wizz Air to let them know about my experience, so we will see what happens! I fly almost daily and deal with low-cost carriers (including Wizz Air) very often and have never had this happen so I know it is an isolated incident, but nonetheless, it was very unfortunate. After dealing with that whole ordeal I was thrilled once the plane was moving and it was behind me.

I arrived in Sofia at around 7:30pm to find that I had arrived in the terminal without a metro connection and that the bus to the other terminal would not run again for another thirty minutes. I was incredibly lucky, though, as I made a new friend who helped me make it to the city center very easily! He was a former professional dancer who now teaches dance and has lived all over Europe, so it was really interesting to talk with him not only about his home country of Bulgaria but about Europe and travel in general.

We had a great talk on the bus ride and he even was nice enough to walk me the last few minutes to my hotel. It was another great chance encounter on my trip, and I can’t thank him enough for his helpfulness, generosity, and enjoyable conversation!

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When I arrived at my hotel, Sense Hotel, I was blown away with how nice it was and immediately was so excited to just really enjoy a great night of sleep for the first time in a few days. My room was beautiful and modern and had lots of fun buttons to push to control all of the lights and settings in the room. There was a really nice shower and also a good night chocolate which was so cute and an unexpected treat. Thank you so much to Sense Hotel for sponsoring this night of my trip and allowing me to get a much needed full night of rest.

It ended up being quite the ordeal to get to Sofia, but I am so excited to get to explore Bulgaria tomorrow!

The Churches

I felt rested for the first time in days thanks to my cosy night’s sleep at Sense Hotel and had a great breakfast with amazing views out over all of Sofia to start my day off right. I enjoyed talking with the really sweet girls at the front desk (who were kind enough to give me an extra hour to check out) before heading out for the day in Sofia.

My first stop was Cathedral Saint Alexandar Nevski which is probably the most well known of the many churches in Sofia. It has quite the unique design and was actually built by the Russians. That makes sense upon seeing the architecture which really is stunning. My next stop was just right across the street at Temple Sveta Sofia. It is one of the historically most important spots in the city as it has been around in some capacity for almost two millennia. It stands in stark contrast to Cathedral Saint Alexandar Nevski, but was beautiful in its own way. The best part was being able to walk around all of the old ruins of previous churches that have stood on the site. You actually go underneath the church and it was really quite cool.

From there I headed to yet another church, Russian Church Sveti Nikolay Mirlikiiski. It looked very traditionally Orthodox and though small was beautiful both inside and out. My next stop was the Amphitheater of Serdica which was quite bizarre. The Amphitheater of Serdica is ruins of an ancient amphitheater, but they are now inside of a hotel. So you go inside of a hotel to see these ruins. It was fine but just weird and the ruins were not very impressive as there was not very much to see. Luckily for me everything in Sofia is very close together so it didn’t hurt to give it a quick look!

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I transitioned here from looking at old ruins and churches to visit my first museum of the day, Museum of the History of Sofia. It was not a very large museum but it contained a lot and was very easy to do in under an hour. Everything was in English and I learned a good amount about the city in one quick visit. From here it was back to visiting churches. I attempted to visit Sofia Synagogue but it was closed. My next stop was Cathedral Church Sveta Nedelya, but on the way I ran into quite the interesting site! The East Gate of Serdica ruins were discovered when the city was building a metro station in 2012, and is almost an entire Roman street from the 6th century! It was really cool to walk through, and I found it especially interesting as it is right in the middle of the city and is such a recent discovery.

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Cathedral Church Sveta Nedelya was right past the East Gate of Serdica and was yet another beautiful church in Sofia. From there I visited, of course, one last church. It truly was impressive how many beautiful churches are in Sofia! My last one was Church St. George Rotunda, which you could just tell was very historic. It was surrounded outside by many ruins. I then headed just next door to visit the National Archeology Museum. It was not very large but was pretty interesting, especially after having seen so many historic sites today!

My last stop was to grab a quick dinner at a restaurant called Corso. I had a nice chicken dish for a reasonable price before heading just a few minutes down the street back to Sense Hotel to get my bags and head to the airport. I took the metro as it was very quick and inexpensive. It was pretty easy though I did need to double check and make sure that I was getting on the right train.

When I arrived at the airport I was at the right terminal this time thankfully. This terminal is much nicer and newer than the one I flew into yesterday. I cleared security and immigration easily and then made my way to the airport lounge for a few hours. Things were going smoothly until I noticed my flight was delayed by an hour. This was not a huge deal but was not ideal. It left me with only an hour to connect in Istanbul. However, things only got worse. Before I knew it one hour turned to two. After finally boarding the plane and taking off I pretty much lost all hope of catching my flight when the plane had to circle in the air for another hour, bringing the delay total up to three hours.

When I arrived I was told that my flight was still at the airport, but I knew that there was no way I would make it. The flight was in the final call stage when my flight had just landed and I checked online, and when I checked the departures board in the airport it went from final call to no longer being listed on the board. I had walked quickly for a few minutes before completely giving up when it was no longer on the board. I definitely was not the only one with a missed connection. Apparently, all of this was caused by the weather in Istanbul.

There were probably hundreds of people in line to have their flight changed on Turkish Airlines. I thought that I would be in line forever, but then I got very lucky. They decided to open up a new desk to deal with the demand and they chose my spot in line to go to the front. It was so lucky and I couldn’t believe it - perhaps I would get a little sleep after all.

I had my ticket changed to a 9am flight, meaning that I would still have plenty of time to enter Azerbaijan, but I would unfortunately now not have time to see Baku which I was definitely disappointed about. I’m really glad I decided on getting Priority Pass to use for the remainder of my trip because it came in handy big time tonight. I found a lounge that I was able to sleep on a couch in for about four hours. It was a bit noisy but I was on a couch and there was even a big locker for my things so I can’t complain. I woke up around 8am, headed to my gate, and finally boarded my plane for Baku, Azerbaijan.

While tonight was quite the ordeal, it is also the first time that I have had a flight connection missed which I honestly have a hard time believing myself. Especially because, in quite exciting news, I am now one country away from being halfway on my trip! To have made it halfway without something like this happening is truly amazing. While it isn’t ideal I’m just very glad that it wasn’t worse and that I was still able to make it to Azerbaijan within the time that I needed to be there.

97 countries down, 98 to go.

For more information on Bulgaria click here to read my guide.

To learn more about Sense Hotel click here.

Country #90 - Greece Day 3

The Other Acropolis

When I woke up this morning I felt very rested and had another great breakfast at Spirit of the Knights Boutique Hotel. My first stop of the day was the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes. It was quite the place! The palace dates back to the 14th century and it was amazing just how grand it was. I really enjoyed walking through, especially as I was the only person inside at the time. It makes sense that this is the main sight in Rhodes as it really is quite the spectacle.

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After finishing the palace I made my way to the bus stop to head out for my main stop of the day. While the island is called Rhodes, and the main town on the island is also called Rhodes, there are actually other cities on the island. Today I am visiting the town of Lindos. I decided to come to Rhodes because my younger brother actually visited this summer and said that Lindos was his favorite part of his trip through Europe, so I had to come and see for myself! The bus ride took about an hour. It was pretty bizarre, though, because multiple groups of school aged children kept getting on and off with their backpacks on in the middle of the day. I couldn’t quite figure it out, but at one point it seemed like an entire class of middle school aged kids were on the bus.

When I arrived in Lindos I walked around the very small city on my way to the Lindos Acropolis. On my walk I stopped by the small, but picturesque, Church of Panagia. The walk up to the Acropolis took about twenty minutes. At the top was a massive ancient structure similar to the Parthenon in Athens. The entire Acropolis area was very large and included many different things to see. The best part, though, was the incredible views offered from the top out over the island. You could not only see Lindos and the beautiful Lindos beach, but also the countryside and the water that stretched as far as the eye could see. While I was walking around the Lindos Acropolis I had a cat following me pretty much the entire time which was both adorable and very entertaining. The Lindos Acropolis was stunning not only in the actual Acropolis itself, but the indescribable views of the beautiful Greek island. It was definitely worth the visit!

After finishing my time at the Acropolis I made my way back to the bus stop for the hour ride back to Rhodes. When I got back I spent a little while walking around the moat that surrounds the gates of the city. I then made my way back to the hotel where I rested for a bit before going to get dinner with Lena! She had suggested it since I was eating by myself and I was more than happy to get to know her over dinner. We went to a really cool little spot located in the new part of the city which, contrary to the old city, was actually open for business. We had a great time at dinner! I really enjoyed learning about her time spent in Rhodes, the US, and talking with her about Russia (where she is originally from) as well. I had a special Greek version of lamb for dinner. I don’t normally eat lamb but Lena said it was the best thing on the menu so I gave it a shot - and she wasn’t wrong! It was so tasty and quite filling. We also had a great cheese dish to start with that was awesome. It tasted a bit like a Greek version of queso! I had a great time at dinner and am so glad that she suggested it.

After dinner Lena drove me back to the hotel where I told her goodbye and then headed back to my room for the night. I have an early and long day of travel to Malta tomorrow so I went to sleep as early as I could. I have had an amazing time on Rhodes and am so glad I was finally able to explore Greece over the past few days!

90 countries down, 107 to go.

For more information on Greece click here to read my guide.

To learn more about Spirit of the Knights Boutique Hotel click here.

Country #90 - Greece Day 2

The Greek Island

I woke up very early for my flight from Athens to Rhodes. So early, in fact, that the Athens metro was not yet running. Instead I took a quick Uber to the bus stop for the airport express bus that runs all day and night. It was a pretty quick ride to the airport. I grabbed a quick snack to eat and then boarded my flight. It only took about an hour to arrive in Rhodes, Greece.

The airport was tiny and definitely not very busy in the middle of the winter. There was a bus stop to take the bus into the center of town right outside. The bus must have just picked up right after my plane landed, which doesn't seem like very good planning, because it took about an hour for the next bus to arrive. The ride into town took about twenty minutes, and my walk from the bus stop to Spirit of the Knights Boutique Hotel was about ten minutes. Walking into town was pretty cool because you basically enter an old gated city that looks like a giant fortress. Once inside all of the buildings are very old and unique. It was quite the welcome to Rhodes!

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When I arrived I was greeted by Lena who made me a fantastic welcome breakfast. I really appreciated it and was blown away by Spirit of the Knights from the very beginning. It felt like staying inside of a castle! It was very grand but also very unique. My room was fantastic. It had a sitting room with a very comfortable lounge area that was really enjoyable to work in. I also loved the shared sitting room outside of my room: it felt like something straight out of the Middle Ages. I cannot thank Spirit of the Knights Boutique Hotel enough for sponsoring the next two nights of my trip! After having woken up at 4am I was very tired and decided to take a nap before starting my day. I apparently needed it as I slept for almost four hours. When I woke up I set out to see the city.

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Rhodes is a tiny Greek island with major medieval roots. What was immediately noticeable, even on my first walk through the city, was how empty it was. I felt like the only tourist on the whole island! Most restaurants were closed and I was basically the only person walking around. My first stop was the Medieval Clock Tower in the center of town. It was closed for the season so I was unable to climb up it. From there I headed to the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes. This is the main attraction in the city of Rhodes and for good reason - it looks amazing! Unfortunately it closes early during the off season so I would have had very little time to walk around, so I decided to come back tomorrow. I continued my walk by just walking around inside of the Old Town Castle. I found an area where I could climb up on top of the walls which was really cool as you could see out towards the water but also back towards the city.

My next stop was to walk out to the Fort of St. Nicholas. It’s an old fort that is closed to the public year round, but sits out by itself in the middle of the water. I enjoyed walking too it as I was almost surrounded by water and there were really cool old windmills along the walk. It was also on this walk that I realized how bad the feral cat problem is in Rhodes. I had noticed quite a few so far, but there were literally hundreds along this walk. They were laying in rocks along the water and someone even set up a shelter for them to sleep under. Sure they were cute, but it was crazy! I have never seen so many cats before. After walking to the fort I then walked back around the Mandraki Port that it sits on, including past Ekklisia Evaggelismos church.

After finishing up the main highlights in the center of the city I began my walk out towards my last two stops of the day: the Acropolis of Rhodes and the Ancient Olympic Stadium. It took about thirty minutes from the center of the city and was an interesting walk as it went through neighborhoods. I arrived at the Ancient Olympic Stadium first. It was not nearly as impressive as the one in Athens, but was still really cool to see! I then walked up a steep hill to visit the Acropolis of Rhodes. Once again it was less impressive than Athens, but the views were insane! I could what felt like the entire city. After I finished walking around I crossed the street to look out at the water on the other side and boy, was it spectacular. It was one of the most impressive views that I have ever seen - it truly was just a stunning sight to take in.

I was able to enjoy this view for aa few minutes on my walk back towards town. After another thirty minute walk I headed back to the hotel where I met Duncan. He was so nice and very helpful with anything that I needed! I went back to my room for a bit and then went out for dinner. Duncan recommended literally the only restaurant that was open within the old city so I didn’t have too many options, but it turned out great! It was a cute little Greek food place and I had kebabs that were quite tasty. After the five minute walk back to the hotel I headed back to my room to work and try to get a good night of sleep. Tomorrow I will venture out of the city of Rhodes and head to visit Lindos!

90 countries down, 107 to go.

For more information on Greece click here to read my guide.

To learn more about Spirit of the Knights Boutique Hotel click here.

Country #90 - Greece Day 1

The Acropolis

I woke up a little later than I had planned but still got a pretty early start on the day. My first stop was, of course, the Acropolis! On my walk there I stopped by Areopagus Hill (also known as Mars Hill) to get a great view of both Athens and the Acropolis. I then bought my ticket and headed inside the gates. There is so much to see inside of the Acropolis that it was easy to spend hours there.

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My first stop was the Theater of Dionysus and to walk around the bottom of that side of the hill. The theater was really interesting, as were the other ruins in that area. The Odeon of Herodes Atticus, which was honestly cooler than the Theater of Dionysus I thought! After finishing my walk around the base of the acropolis I headed uphill with my first stop being the Temple of Athena Nike. From there I visited the Erechtheion, and then, most importantly, the Parthenon! It was amazing to see the Parthenon in person. I was really glad to see that the scaffolding wasn’t too bad as when my brother visited last summer it was supposedly covered. Having been to the full scale Parthenon replica in Nashville (if you are looking for a fun tourist stop in Nashville I highly recommend going inside) it made it even cooler to see the real thing. I made sure to take plenty of pictures and then started to make my way to exit the Acropolis.

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I walked just a few minutes from the Acropolis exit to the Acropolis muesum. It is a very modern building as the museum only opened in 2009. It was so cool! Not only did the museum offer amazing views of the Acropolis itself, but I learned and saw so much inside. I read a lot about the origins and lifespan of the Acropolis, and there were tons of artifacts from the Acropolis. My favorite part was the area about the Parthenon, which housed many of the stones and sculptures that used to line the top of the structure.

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After the museum I walked around the city for a bit. I walked by a few sites that were close by, including Hadrian's Arch (which is literally just on the side of the road), the Temple of Olympian Zeus (which you can see entirely from the gate without paying the entrance fee), and Syntagma Square / the Hellenic Parliament. There were guards outside of the Hellenic Parliament guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which was interesting to watch. I continued my walk to head to get some much needed lunch. I found a spot that was supposed to be cheap and good, called Falafellas. It was right by my hotel so I took it back to my room and ate it on my balcony as the restaurant was entirely to-go. It was tasty but I discovered that I don’t love falaffel. I’m glad I gave it a try, though!

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After lunch I walked through the Monastiraki Flea Market to see if a few other archeological sites were open. Unfortunately most everything ended up closing at 3pm during the winter, but it was okay because I at least had a good view of them earlier from my walk up to the Acropolis. By this point it was about 4pm and I had about an hour until attractions would start to close, so I decided to make the Panathenaic Stadium my last outdoor visit of the day. I also got very well aquainted with Athens’ public transportation over the next few hours. I took the metro and then a bus th the Panathenaic Stadium, which was so cool! It is the first Olympic Stadium of the modern iteration of the games, which actually includes games held all the way back to 1896! The stadium’s history goes back much further, though, as it was built as a racecourse in 330BC. I enjoyed being able to walk all around it and even inside of it. Unfortunately the gift shop was closed or I definitely would have bought some Olympic gear given my love for the games (side note, I was so pumped for the Winter Olympics and watched every night!!!).

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After enjoying the stadium I took the bus to the National Archaeological Museum which was thankfully open until 8pm on Mondays. Most places are usually closed on Monday so this was quite the nice surprise. I really enjoyed it as there were so many more Artifacts from all around Greece, and it was a great way to spend a few hours inside out of the cold. Yes it’s Greece so it shouldn’t be very cold, but it is also January so it got pretty chilly at night. After the museum I made my way to eat dinner at a place called Lithos Tavern Restaurant. It was very near to my hotel and in a great area called Plaka. On my walk there I walked down a street that was filled with Christmas stores and was entirely Christmas oriented so that was a bit bizarre. I had a gread dinner that included kebabs, pita, and a free fruit plate for desert that I really appreciated! It was a very nice little spot and I really enjoyed it as a great end to my day in Athens.

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After dinner I headed back to my hotel and went to sleep pretty quick to get ready for my very early flight to Rhodes, Greece tomorrow. I really enjoyed Athens and am so glad that I finally made it here, but I’m very excited to spend the next two days on an island!

90 countries down, 107 to go.

For more information on Greece click here to read my guide.

To learn more about Attalos Hotel click here.

Country #89 - Albania

The Taxis

The rest of the bus ride from Kosovo to Albania included one shocking tidbit - there was so much trash literally everywhere! I had noticed this in a few spots in the Balkans, the large amounts of trash just everywhere in the countryside, but in Albania, it hit its peak. Literally, it was everywhere. At one stream, for instance, you could not even see the banks as they were just covered in plastic and trash. It was bizarre and just sad to see.

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When the bus finally arrived in Tirana it was dark and the bus station was not really a station. There was nowhere to exchange money, no ATM, no one who spoke English, and no taxis. Some men attempted to “help” me but they were more overwhelming than anything else. One said he was a taxi driver but came back with his normal car so that was a no go. I decided to walk away when someone finally spoke English and found me an actual taxi driver. There ended up being more around the corner, but there is no sign of that where the bus drops off. It was a bit overwhelming but they really all were just trying to help. The language barrier strikes again!

Thankfully the taxi ride was not long at all, and the driver readily took Euros. I checked into my nice room at Diplomat Fashion Hotel. Their restaurant was closed but the nice girl at the front desk ordered me a pizza and it was so good. Just the perfect thing after a bit of a crazy day! I got a good night’s sleep before having a day to explore the city.

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The Bunker

I had a great breakfast at Diplomat Fashion Hotel before heading out to see Tirana! I took a taxi to the city center where my first stop was the National History Museum. The museum was really quite big and I was able to learn a ton about Albania. The English translations were great in the beginning but began to dwindle as I made my way through the museum. I was able to learn a lot about early Albania, though! After the museum, I walked around the square that it sits on, Sheshi Skënderbej. It is a giant area in the middle of the city that was just filled with people. It is also home to the Et'hem Bej Mosque which was closed but very pretty outside, and the Kulla e Sahatit clock tower which was also closed.

After enjoying the square for a bit I made my next stop at a very unique museum: Bunk'Art 2. Bunk’Art 2 reconstructs the history of the Albanian Ministry of Internal Affairs bunkers that were used from 1912 to 1991, with the museum aspect focusing on the secrets of Sigurimi, the communist police state. It is such a unique concept - I really enjoyed it and learned a lot! The exhibits in Bunk’Art 2 are more focused on politics as opposed to art like in Bunk’Art 1, but I unfortunately did not have time to visit both.

After a really enjoyable experience at Bunk’Art 2 I made my way to the Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral. It was probably the most modern Orthodox church that I have seen and it was a really cool structure. Afterwards, I walked past Park Rinia and then to the National Arts Gallery. There was an extremely cool work of art outside that you could actually walk through! I had to decide against visiting the museum, though, as I was cutting it close on time and didn’t want to be late for my flight. My last stop, then, was Kambana e Paqjes, the Bell of Peace. It sits in front of The Pyramid, which is a worn down building that used to be a museum dedicated to the former Albanian dictator. The statue and its entire setup were quite unique. At this point, the rain was really starting to come down and I needed to be aware of the time so I took a taxi back to Diplomat Fashion Hotel.

From there I grabbed my things and took a taxi to the airport. There was a bit of traffic and instead of waiting in line people were literally driving on the sidewalk. It was insane how impatient people were being as we were so close to the airport, but I guess this is normal in Albania! I arrived at the airport which was nice and newer, and at the check-in counter, I was told that my bag was overweight and that I would have to pay thirty-five Euros. I don’t know how I did it, but I guess I just looked sad enough to get out of it because within a minute the very kind girl told me that she would let it slide. Thank goodness! I was relieved, to say the least, and really appreciated it.

I had a pretty short flight to Athens, which is somewhere that I have wanted to visit for a very long time! When I arrived at the airport there were once again people repeatedly breaking in line - it actually made me start to wonder if this is truly just a thing that Albanians do? Anyways, after making it through immigration I headed to the metro. I bought a twenty-two Euro pass that is good for three days (though I won’t need it for that long) to use all of the public transit in Athens. Considering just the airport and back would cost twenty, it was a good deal!

The metro was very easy to take to my hotel, Attalos Hotel. It was just a straight shot for about forty minutes and then a walk around the corner from where I got off! My room was nice and I was very glad to finally be in Athens. The best part of my arrival was realizing that I could see the Parthenon in the distance from my room’s balcony! Thank you so much to Attalos Hotel for sponsoring this night of my trip.

I had an enjoyable stay in Albania and am very glad that I was able to see the city, walk around, and visit some great museums. I’m very excited to be in Athens, though, and look forward to spending tomorrow exploring a city that I have always wanted to visit!

89 countries down, 108 to go.

For more information on Albania click here to read my guide.

To learn more about Diplomat Fashion Hotel click here.

To learn more about Attalos Hotel click here.