Tag Archives: sarajevo

My Favorite Hostels in Eastern Europe

I’ve spent quite a bit of time traveling in Eastern Europe, but no matter how far I’ve traveled or for how long, certain hostels remain ingrained in my memories.  The six Eastern European hostels below stand out for different reasons: staff who go above and beyond, amazing locations, creative décor or even- in one case- an unforgettable fragrance!  When you’re planning your Eastern European backpacking or budget travel trip, try to include at least one of these best Eastern European hostels on your itinerary!

Nikita’s Homestay, Olkhon Island, Russia

Nikita's Homestay Olkhon Island Russia

Nikita’s Homestay is a sprawling complex that has grown beyond its original incarnation as a family homestay on Russia‘s Olkhon Island (in Lake Baikal) to something much more interesting.  It has a wide range of rooms (some with the comforts of the modern world, other with squat toilets in the garden) that they book as private dwellings or hostel-style, depending on the needs of their guests.  I shared a three-bed room with two other girls, and we shared two toilets and one shower with one other room.  Meals are included in your package, and you can choose from the basic canteen (with basic dishes like cabbage salad and pasta in tomato sauce) or pay a bit extra for a small, but interesting buffet with a good assortment of vegetarian foods.  Nikita’s is special because of its garden setting, the magical quality of its decorations, and its location next to the most beautiful sights in the town of Khuzhir on Olkhon Island.

Rooms with shared toilets and showers, including breakfast and dinner, start at 1400 rubles.

The Naughty Squirrel, Riga, Latvia

Naughty Squirrel Hostel Riga Latvia

The Naughty Squirrel Hostel in Riga, Latvia, stands out to me because it offered the perfect combination of social activities and independence.  On my first evening there I walked into a magic show in the social room.  To me, that’s the perfect kind of low-key way to meet other people after a long day of travel that’s left me too tired to want to go on a crazy pub crawl or something.  The Australian owner is lovely and personally led a group of us to one of his favorite bars to sample a very “interesting” drink.  Of course, if you like crazy pub crawls the option is there too, as is the chance to shoot AK-47s and other firearms on one of their organized outings.

Dorm rooms start at EUR 12.

The Hairy Lemon, Sarande, Albania

sarande albania

Every morning the staff at The Hairy Lemon hostel whip up a batch of cinnamon-spiked pancake batter, so you can make fresh hot cakes when you rise and shine.  Ask nicely and they might share the recipe for their homemade Irish Cream too.  Combine that with late-night barbecues on the nearby beach and the best views the town has to offer, and it’s likely the best hostel in all of Albania.

Dorms from EUR 10 per night.

Mama’s and Papa’s, Gdansk, Poland

Road to Mamas and Papas Hostel Gdansk Poland

It’s the mama and the papa that make Mamas and Papas Hostel one of the most special hostels in Eastern Europe.  The couple that runs this place is full on heart and passionate about making sure every guest has a good stay in Gdansk.  If you’re missing your own mom and dad, they will take you under their wing and give you a little parental TLC.  For example, when they found out that I was a vegetarian they brought a special mushroom pastry back from the market for me to try. The hostel is found just outside the city center, near an expansive park, on a street dotted with hundreds of tiny frogs!  Too cute!

Dorms start at 40 zloty.  Private rooms are 140 zloty.

Haris Hostel, Sarajevo, Romania

Haris Hostel Sarajevo Tour Bosnia

That’s Haris, and Haris Hostel is the hostel his family opened after the Balkan War to share their love of Sarajevo with travelers from around the world.  Located on the top of a rather large hill, Haris Hostel hosts panoramic barbecue dinners, offers city tours rooted in the family history, and gives guests a feel for the day-to-day life in Sarajevo today. The family also operates a tour company from their office in the historic city center, so if you have any questions you can get a quick response without the climb!

Dorms from EUR 10, private rooms from EUR 25.

Cobwobs Hostel, Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania

Sighetu Marmatiei Romania

This one is an odd addition to my list.  Owned by a man from the UK and the Romanian family he married into, at first glance Cobwobs Hostel is nothing special.  It’s located in Sighetu Marmatiei, a Maramures town that rarely makes it onto any Romania trip itineraries, and it’s in a pretty nondescript second house built behind the family home (bigger and newer than those in the photo of the neighborhood streets above). However, I appreciated the little touches (even when there were only one or two other guests) like a daily weather forecast, expansive list of things to do, and the gorgeous scent of the wood-burning stove used to heat the water for your shower.

Contact the hostel for current prices.

If you think I missed one of the best hostels in Eastern Europe, share it below in the comments!

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Mealtime Monday – Cake and Coffee in Sarajevo

Cake and Coffee in Sarajevo

I don’t want you guys thinking that all I do is eat cake and drink coffee, but it’s starting to feel like that, no?  In fact, when I posted last week’s entry about sneaking out of the rain for a slice of medovik in Perm, Russia, I thought I could link back to this photo, taken a few years earlier in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.  I couldn’t find the link, though, and I realized that it was because I’d never shared this photo of the cake and coffee I enjoyed at a beautiful, traditional bakery cafe on Sarajevo’s main pedestrian street (Ferhadija). They had an amazing assortment of cakes available by the slice, and tiny metal tables lined the cafe’s outside walls so that you could sit, sip, eat and people-watch as the crowds passed your table.  I happened to be there during Ramadan, so the city was especially vibrant; for my recommendations about where to go and what to do during a visit at any time of year check out Destination: Sarajevo.

Mealtime Monday – Vegetarian Crispy Quinoa in Sarajevo

sarajevo vegetarian restaurant

I can’t say I was surprised to find, as I was writing this post, that the restaurant where I ate this dish has since closed.  This was the grilled vegetable and quinoa plate offered by Vegehana, a Sarajevo vegetarian restaurant.  It had a great location in the heart of the old town, but unfortunately only one person seemed to be working there, both preparing and serving the food.  In some cases that can work, but not in a restaurant with a huge menu and more than twenty hungry diners wanting to eat!  The best part of this meal was definitely the crispy topping on the quinoa, made from ground nuts, seeds and spices.  It’s a technique I’ve often incorporated into my own cooking since discovering it at Vegehana, and I’ve also seen it appear in a number of recent cookbooks (for example, the “crumbs” section in Tim Malzer’s new Green Box).  Sorry to see you go, Vegehana, but there are still lots of great options for vegetarians in Sarajevo!

WPC: On the Move in Sarajevo

sarajevo tram

While Sarajevo is a city that is easy to discover by foot, if you want to get a sense of how the locals live it is worthwhile to take a tram to the suburbs east of the city center.

sarajevo tram

You might not find too many other people joining you for the ride, and upon arrival in the neighborhoods like Novi Grad and Novo Sarajevo you will probably also find yourself mostly alone in your explorations.   What better way to get off the tourist track?

WPC: Good Morning Sarajevo and Mostar!

sarajevo to mostar train

I got out of bed at 11:00 am today.  Fortunately it’s the weekend and all I’ve got to do is a little classwork (mostly done already!) plus some housekeeping.  On weekdays it’s another story.  I have my morning routine on a schedule as tight as a Marine, with nearly everything carefully planned the night before so as to avoid losing even one extra minute’s sleep.  Thus, it was hard for me to find a photo to illustrate this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge theme: morning.  I don’t have time to take photos in the morning!

It took a while before I could recall a time I do take photos in the morning: when I’ve booked myself on an early train.  I’ve shared this photo with you before; it shows the beautiful morning train ride between Mostar and Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The Sarajevo to Mostar train runs twice daily and takes a little longer than a bus, but the 7:00 am departure affords beautiful views of hills, valleys and rivers as the sun rises.  Maybe if mornings here in suburbia were that beautiful I’d be more inclined to get up early!