There is a very, very good chance that Rich and I will soon be heading out on another long, nomadic railway journey, with minimal luggage, a couple of Eurail passes, and only the vaguest idea of our itinerary and possible trip duration (maybe four to five months). But if we've learned anything, it's to take nothing for granted and always expect delays.
The biggest question mark concerns our Spanish residency permits. We filed for renewal two months ago, just before we left Spain to visit Cuba, Arizona, and California. Normally renewal is a routine process, but as you may have heard, Europe is a bit touchy about immigration these days, and getting residency permits is now considerably more complicated — and more necessary for the kind of long-term travel we're planning. In theory our residency permits will be waiting for us when we get back to Seville at the end of this week. But these days, with regulations tightening so fast no one can keep up with the changes, anything can happen. Worst case, we'll need to start the process all over again, requiring months in Seville to sort things out.
But if the travel gods are smiling upon us, we will pick up our residency cards next Monday, have a round of welcome-back-bon-voyage dinners with friends, do laundry, pack, and get out the door somewhere around April 15.
We have divided the upcoming train trip into two distinct phases. Phase 1 is all about taking a fairly leisurely route to our first port of call, Albania. We figure that will take about three weeks or so. What's Phase 2? I'll get to that in a minute...
PHASE 1: GETTING TO ALBANIA
I love going places that have long been off limits, and Albania — cut off from the world from 1944 to 1992 by its strict communist government — remains a mysterious destination on the edge of mainstream Europe. And it sounds like a hoot. For instance, the prime minister (who happens to be an artist) started adding jazzy colors and patterns to grim old concrete high-rises from the communist days, improving the capital's appearance, morale, and even compliance with the law. Brilliant!
"Honestly, the more time I spend in Albania, the harder it is for me to understand why people are so skeptical about it," said Larissa Olenicoff, aka the Blonde Gypsy, when I interviewed her for my post Authentic, Affordable, Gorgeous: Why NOT the Balkans? "For sure it can be complicated in terms of infrastructure and at times language, but it’s just as safe as every other European country and there is SO MUCH TO SEE there. It really has everything from beaches to mountains to history to amazing food and all at an unbelievably low price." Best of all, it's not overrun with tourists!
What happens after Albania?
We're thinking of this trip as our Balkans to Baltics Tour. While even the experts can't quite agree which parts of approximately 13 countries constitute the Balkans, we're pretty sure Albania counts as one of them, and from there we'll likely wend our way north through other Balkan states such as Macedonia, Kosovo, and Serbia. After that we're considering heading up through Hungary, western Ukraine, and Poland to reach the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. But that's only a rough idea; we want to keep our itinerary loose and exploratory.
How much luggage are we taking (if any)?
Everyone's been asking if we're going luggage-free on this one, and I have to say no, we are each taking a small suitcase. I want a few clean shirts, a couple of warm layers for the mountains, and my trusty laptop for blogging along the way. However I am attempting even more minimalist packing this time; I'll be posting more about that soon.
How can you be part of the journey?
I hope you'll follow our exploits as they unfold on this blog. If you haven't already subscribed, sign up here and I'll let you know as soon as I have something new and interesting to report. And if you have suggestions, warnings, or tales of your own about any of the places we're thinking of visiting, please share them in the comments below!
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I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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