We welcome a second travel blog from David Grosvenor, an artist based in North Wales, who returned to travelling further afield with gusto this year by joining two of Festiniog Travel’s Small & Traditional escorted holidays. In this write-up David offers further, frank insight into our ‘away from the tourist trail’ tours when he travelled with a small group to Albania (including visits to Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia) to explore this mountainous and sparsely populated country and encountered a very warm welcome, delicious food and spectacular scenery that he struggled to find the words for!
When we invited travel writer Tom Chesshyre (author of six travel books) on a section of our Pushing the Boundaries escorted tour to Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania in 2014, we anticipated coverage in the travel press but hadn’t expected his experience to inspire and form part of his new book about unusual train journeys. Here Tom takes an extract from his book and writes an observational blog about his trip with Ffestiniog Travel.
Readers who are already familiar with our Small and Traditional tours to former Communist bloc countries won’t be surprised to read that we are always looking for new destinations, particularly those that fit our mould of a venture into the unusual, giving the opportunity to explore those places which are well off the beaten track and to learn about the local culture and social history whilst, at the same time, sampling their railways. It all started with Romania back in 2008 and has subsequently expanded to include Moldova, Bulgaria, Georgia and Uzbekistan. The details inevitably change from country to country but one theme is constant – we do, for the most part, aim to use locally owned accommodation, restaurants, transport and guides, thereby ensuring that our custom benefits the local community rather than lining the pockets of multi-nationals. By the way, did you know that, at the time of writing, there are no McDonalds or Starbucks in Albania? This seems a good reason to pay the country a visit! Albania certainly hasn’t yet been “globalised”.
Our research trip to Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania, June 2013
It probably comes as no surprise to the reader to learn that, once we have decided to explore the possibility of a tour to a new destination, we have to do our homework and, where appropriate, our fieldwork too. What is perhaps unusual is that we have decided to write it up, bad bits as well, for everybody to read. We aren’t trying to put you off, of course! Far from it – we hope that, like us, you will get a lot of enjoyment out of being a pioneer to an area which, thus far, has seen virtually no tourism of any kind. That, perhaps, is the point – we want all customers who sign up for this tour to know exactly what it was like for us so that they can make up their own minds whether it is also right for them.
It is important to stress from the outset that, although Kosovo is a “new” country with KFOR peacekeeping troops still very much in evidence, we felt completely safe at all times. Crime is low in all the countries visited and we kept well out of the way of those areas which border Serbia and where tensions are still occasionally reported. In fact, the nearest we got to becoming the victims of crime was the usual occupational hazard of being ripped off by taxi drivers.