May 17, 2024 8 min read

The Traveler, part IV: Croatia and Our Chaotic Trip to Eastern Europe

Budapest Parliament building at night
Budapest Parliament building at night

Welcome to, “From the Beginning: A Nomadic Tale,” the origin story from one of our writers, and how he started out his life on the road in 2019; at age 64. Norm Bour now has 43 countries behind him, over 50 in total, and is currently in Asia for the year. This series shares how it began and how you might be able to do it, too. You can also check out his initial story, and parts I, part II, and part III, just recently posted.

You can learn more about them from their website,, and also his books, including Nomadic Life for All Ages, and his new one, The History and Magic of Northern Greece.

We landed in Croatia at dawn on May 15 of 2019, after taking an overnight ferry from Ancona, Italy. Our 90 days in the Schengen Zone was used, so we were forced to stay out of the EU until they could reset. You need not stay gone for 90 days since it is a rolling 90 days out of 180 days, and every day you stay away starts towards your rebuilding time. Like I said in my prior entries, the rules of Schengen are wacky, but you do not want to ignore them!!

Our first impression of Croatia was a grand one, as we enjoyed a brilliant sunrise, sailed by numerous islands, even as we slept most of the way, and woke up to see the beautiful coastline; that was the start of our love affair with Croatia, and we are still smitten. Even if they did run off and join the majority of Europe in the Schengen Zone.

Ferrying into Split, Croatia
Ferrying into Split, Croatia

Croatia was unfamiliar to us since we did little research beforehand. Spain we knew, and Italy was a well-known location since its highlighted in many movies and shows, but Croatia, which we found to be the most “westernized” of the former Soviet Bloc countries, was a pleasure.

At the time they used the kuna as currency, but they are now on the euro, which has had a positive effect for the country overall, but a negative effect on prices. On top of that, during COVID, and post-pandemic, Croatia was becoming more noteworthy for all the reasons why we loved it, and significantly more crowded.

The people, the affordability, the amazing food and scenery, and there are more than 1200 islands to see and explore!

Our targeted city was Split, on the Adriatic Sea, but we stayed about 20 minutes north of town in what they call “kastels,” which are little villages, each a bit different, and all more affordable than staying in town. This was one of the lessons we learned along the way. MANY times living “in the city” is pricey, but if you’re OK being 20 minutes (or so) outside of town, the prices change.

In our case, we were able to pick up a bus for about $2 which took us into Split town, and ran every 20 minutes. We learned a similar lesson in Athens when we stayed there several years later. Lodging inside the city was pretty crappy or expensive, but a metro made staying 15 minutes away quite practical.

Croatia has magnificent beaches
Croatia has magnificent beaches

Six months before we left on our journey, when we were still in the exploratory phase, Kat and I learned we loved renting motorcycles and using them for transportation. I had been a rider for 50 years, and it took her awhile to feel comfortable on the back, but on our initial visit to Barcelona the year before, we rented a 250cc scooter and explored the gorgeous areas to the north of town.

Seeing it on the bike immersed us in the experience, and we have rented bikes in more than a dozen places since then. Another benefit is traffic avoidance; we have been able to pass lines of traffic miles long, saving us lots of time, and they can be parked almost anywhere!

Our Piaggio Beverly bike
Our Piaggio Beverly bike

Along those lines, let me mention scooters, which are the de facto standard in much of the world, but gets looked down upon in America, land of the Big Bikes and Harleys. Scooters in the US are not as practical and can be challenging to ride in big cities, but outside the city, a bigger bike IS better suited for long distances.

If you are a scooter rider, or can become one before or during your journey, it opens up a host of options and opportunities. A general rule is that you can rent a bike up to 125cc without a special US state motorcycle license.

Many towns have trains or buses to take you to the outlying areas or attractions outside town, but having your own wheels really makes it reachable. I’ll be covering bikes a lot in this series since they have been a big part of our lives.

While in Split, we got another 250cc scooter, a Piaggio Beverly, and it was perfect for us. We rode it all the way south through Dubrovnik and into Montenegro, and it had plenty of power. We paid about $20/ day, and at that time thought it a steal. Asia bike prices are much lower we found out later. But that bike allowed us to experience the lush coastline of Croatia, stop and swim where we wanted, and it was a great way for us to really appreciate our nomadic life.

Overall we stayed in Split for about six weeks, and at that time, that was our intended agenda: six weeks at a time. As we were ending our tenure there we realized that our Euro rail pass, which we had bought months earlier, was due to expire, so that incentivized us to go on a rush-rush, hurry-hurry escapade to several countries after Split.

In a too short time period we visited Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia, and finally ended in Romania, where we said TIME OUT, and we chilled there for about three weeks.

We had a terrific room in Brasov, north of the capital city of Bucharest, and fell in love with the cooler temps (it was August and nice!), plus we rented a Big Bike, a BMW F750GS, and really enjoyed the mountain roads they had close by. The owner of Moto Rentals, Sergiu, and I hit it off, and we have rented from him several times now, twice for almost three months’ time.

NOTE: If you are a big bike rider, Romania has two of the best, most fun,—and highest elevation roads—in the world.  Breathtaking does not do it justice, and if you’d like more pictures, send me a note.

Oh yea! The Transfăgărăşan Highway, Romania
Oh yea! The Transfăgărăşan Highway, Romania

I could write pages and pages about the countries we visited on our hurry-hurry trip during the end of summer, 2019, but here are some highlights:

Hungary, especially Budapest, is magnificent, with so much history. The town itself is split by the Danube river with Buda on one side, and Pest on the other. This was something I never knew, even though my mother was Hungarian! It is a walkable town, quite affordable in 2019, but more expensive since then as travel has returned in full force.

We took a bus there from Zagreb, Croatia, after mulling around the train option. Trains in eastern Europe and the Balkans are not the same as western Europe, and you have to allow time for them, as well as the less than modern facilities in many.


Our next stop was Vienna, Austria, and as beautiful as it was, it almost felt “staged,” it was so pretty. We had the same vibes in Monaco a few years earlier, and that reminded us of a movie sound set. We arrived by bus and did not have a room, so had to find one on the fly, and that was our first Sticker Shock moment in a while.

Our lodging was pricey, as was every meal we had there—except for the street Vienna dogs, which were delicious!! It’s still a beautiful city, and with towering buildings and horse drawn carriages, it feels like a fairy tale, but still worth visiting.

From there we trained to Prague, first time for Kat, second time for me, and that is a city I highly recommend you visit! Again, so much beauty, so much history, and still fairly affordable. But our next leg ran into trouble…

Not exactly Japanese high speed rail quality
Not exactly Japanese high speed rail quality

Our intended trip to Warsaw, Poland from Prague taught us firsthand the value of being flexible! We were trying to use our Eurail Pass, which I’ll address later, and one of the limits of the Eurail is that you cannot make reservations online in advance. We foolishly went to the train station, intending to catch a 10:00 a.m. or so Saturday morning train—which was sold out.

That required us to get a ticket for the next one which was midafternoon, so we spent half the day at the train station. That put us way behind our arrival time in Warsaw, which got complicated by a mechanical problem on the train. They had to switch engines in the middle of somewhere, and we sat, no A/C, for an hour while that was done.

Sometimes you truly need to Go with the Flow, and give up control, and as we heard about massive RAIN in Warsaw, along with flooding in the rail station, we opted for a side trip to Krakow instead, about halfway there. This was NOT our plan, but we made some friends while we waited for the train to move, and they made the same adjustment. Collectively about a dozen of us found the train station which took us to Krakow, and we are so glad we did, since we loved it.

HINT: If you know when you plan to leave the train station you arrived at, get your departure ticket when you get there. It takes no time and gives you peace of mind.

Krakow was a great example of unexpected treats, and since it is the closest town to the Auschwitz camp, we added that to our trip. On a personal note, I had deep concerns about visiting the most horrific concentration camp, since my mom was interred there for three years.

I wasn’t sure if I could handle the emotional weight of it, but we went and I did. And we made a promise to return to Krakow again. Unfortunately we lost our AirBNB money on our Warsaw room, but sometimes you just have to let that go, too.

Coming up next: the longest, slowest train ride covering the least amount of distance we have ever been on!

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