5. A little language goes a long way
You can try using English, but attempting a little of the local lingo will go a very long way indeed, particularly somewhere like Hungary, which is a different kettle of linguistic fish altogether…“hol van a WC?!”
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6. Trains are not what they are back home
What, you mean they’re clean, efficient and on time? Er, no. Quite the opposite. Indeed, in some countries – Romania and Serbia immediately spring to mind – a purgatorial experience awaits. Still, it’s all part of the adventure, isn’t it?
7. Oafish officials are the norm
Interminable waits at border crossings and dealings with boorish customs officers in the dead of night are almost a thing of the past, but there may still be the odd occasion when you’ll be required to rummage through your luggage in search of non-existent paperwork.
8. You’ll need to gen up on your currencies
Forget the euros (except for Slovakia), this is the region of the leu, the lek and the lev. Though somewhat confusingly – and unofficially – they do use euros in Montenegro and Kosovo.
9. You’ve never partied properly until you’ve been to Belgrade
Fact. Whilst other cities (notably Budapest and Bucharest) might disagree, the undisputed party capital of Eastern Europe is Belgrade. From independent bars and hipster clubs to dedicated rakia bars and splavovi (riverboat clubs), a thumping good time is guaranteed. And please, do dress up.
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10. The food is really rather good
It’s not all beetroot broth and dumplings, you know. Whether gobbling gulyás in Budapest or chomping on ćevapčići in Sarajevo, the cuisine may come as a something of a welcome surprise.
For the record, Budapest currently rates four Michelin-starred restaurants, the most of any city hereabouts – not that most backpackers will be able to afford it.
11. You’ll be back
Aside from the fact that you’ll only have time to cover a fraction of this chunk of Europe, there are many compelling reasons to return.
A deeply complex history, wildly contrasting landscapes, and the wonderfully warm and welcoming nature of just about everyone you encounter means that you’ll be aching to get back. One visit simply isn’t enough.
Explore more of Eastern Europe with the Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget. Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.
Top image © Miroslava Durcatova/Shutterstock