Tadhg Peavoy gets his backpack on and heads for the Balkans.
Usually when I told people I was heading to the Balkans to spend some time travelling, the response I received was "Where?"
The truth is that, outside Croatia, this beautiful and fascinating peninsula in south-eastern Europe is rarely visited by English-speaking tourists, with Russians, Ukrainians and Germans being the main visitors to the region.
That adds to the sense of adventure and is another great reason to visit.
However, as alluded to earlier, Croatia is the most accessible country in the peninsula. Therefore, it's no surprise that plenty of Irish, British and American tourists visit using low-cost airlines, and that makes it a no-brainer to start a trip there.
I flew into the northern Dalmatian town of Zadar with Ryanair to start my journey and was blown away by what I saw.
Just outside the city, the Wild Fig Hostel is a great place to grab a cheap private room if you're only passing through; it's near the airport and the bus station, which has connections throughout Croatia.
From there, a short stroll brings you to the centre of Zadar: it's a beautiful town, constructed of white marble throughout. Walking around its streets is a breathtaking experience as one takes in the wide, open boulevards and the sensational architecture that lurks around every corner.
The whole old town is pedestrianised and this makes it the perfect spot to amble around and either grab some food or see the sights.
And in terms of sights, the centre of the town offers the remains of a Roman forum as well as several stunning religious buildings, which are all worth taking in.
The Cathedral of St Anastasia, St Donatus Church, the Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Church Art are all built around the old forum and are well worth popping your head into to get a feel for the history of the region.
The town's other big attractions are the more modern Sea Organ – the only one in the world – and the Sun Salutation.
The Sea Organ plays a tune when the waves lash up against it and one can swim in around it while listening to the music it produces, which is powered by solar energy.
The Sun Salutation is a glass circle on the ground near the Sea Organ, which has lots of different glass frames. These gather up solar energy during the day and then emit a solar light show in the evening.
Croatian architect Nikola Basic designed both, and they sound great. Sadly, neither was working when I visited. The local tourist information office told me the organ had been broken by large waves and the salutation had met a sticky end when a group of young hoodlums decided to play 'break the local tourist attraction'. I was told both would be repaired this summer.
When it comes to cuisine, Croatia excels at two things: pizza and seafood.
You can get a selection of both throughout Zadar, with pizzeria's wafting out carbohydrate-and-cheese-filled odours across the town.
One restaurant that ranks high amongst the many in Zadar is Restaurant Bruschetta on Mihovila Pavlinovica 12. Grab a pizza or the John Dory along with some Croatian beer and you will leave very happy with yourself.
My time was limited to just one day in Zadar and returning there is high on my list of priorities. The beaches outside of town and day trips to the nearby islands and national parks were beyond me on this trip, but I will certainly return to do more.
Instead, I scrambled out of bed at 5am to make my down the road to the bus stop with my backpack weighing me down. To make matters worse, a storm was passing through and drenched me to the core as I made the short walk to the bus stop.
On the bus, drenched, I began to curse global warming for the weird summer monsoon, before daydreaming that I should have booked myself a trip to the Middle East for guaranteed sun.
But those thoughts soon faded away as the bus wound its way down the Dalmatian coast towards Dubrovnik. The journey by bus is long at eight hours, but along the way one gets to take in the sights and enjoy what is a spectacular coastline which encompasses Split, Šibenik and crosses briefly into Bosnia's coastal town of Neum before hitting Dubrovnik.
And Dubrovnik really is worth the journey. Like Zadar, the city is largely constructed of marble, and as a result is an architectural marvel that blows one away the moment one claps eyes on it.
The 1,300-year-old city has a lovingly maintained old town, which was heavily bombed during the Balkans war by Montenegrin and Serbian forces. However, it has been fully restored since and has a very strong claim to being the most well-maintained medieval walls and town in Europe.
A walk around the wall – accompanied by an audio guide – is a must in Dubrovnik. After paying a small fee one clambers up the Pile Gate and proceeds to amble around the walls, which deliver views out across the terracotta roofs in the town, as well as the beautiful, pristine waters of the Adriatic Sea. There are bars and snack shops perched all along the walls, which make for handy pit-stops where you can rest before continuing your journey.
But the town walls are but one attraction to be enjoyed. In truth, the city is jammed with interesting sights.
The old town is full of various churches, a Franciscan monastery and wonderful small roads that wind their way around the town, leading to small pizzerias and coffee shops.
For those looking for attractions of a more modern bent, just outside the old town is the Museum of Modern Art, located in a merchant's villa which was commandeered by former Yugoslav dictator Josep Tito. A very large and wide-ranging collection hangs here in a stunning location that looks back across the town.
Another angle on the city, including a stop at the nearby Ploce beach and Lokrum island, is a sea kayak tour. There are plenty of variations on these trips from a whole host of tour companies throughout the city - just take your pick.
As for where to stay in Dubrovnik, personally I'm a fan of the old town over the new town so booked into Roko House apartments (rokoapartments.com). This is a selection of small apartments located right off the main street in Dubrovnik, the Stradun.
From here all the sights are a stroll away and the pick of the restaurants are included in those sights. The selection of eateries in the city is a lot to take in at first and chatting to locals is one way to find the best spot. Personally, I found the black risotto at Lokanda Peskarija and the calamari stuffed with wild mushrooms at Defne to be the pick of the bunch. Start your culinary journey in Dubrovnik at these two establishments.
On my last day in the city, I booked myself in for a day-trip to Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina through Lea Travel.
Crossing over into the neighbouring country is a must. As soon as one makes the journey up into the largely landlocked nation the beauty of the deep valleys sitting side-by-side with the towering hills is startling.
In addition, the different level of wealth in contrast to Croatia is immediately apparent. Bumping around on very poor roads is a testing experience for a few hours, but Mostar is reward enough.
The town was all but totally destroyed during the Balkans war, including the annihilation of the iconic Stari Most bridge.
Through international funding the bridge and surrounding old town have now been completely restored. The Old Bridge Museum screens a brilliant documentary, with TV news archive footage showing the destruction of the city and subsequent rebuild.
While the centre of the town is highly touristy, a small hike up out of the town brings a whole different sight.
Outside of the centre, the bullet hole scars that pockmark building after building, as well as the many bombed-out constructions, display the signs that the country is still very much in recovery mode.
At the top of the hill on the eastern side of the river lie the ruins of an Orthodox Church, which is now being reconstructed. And from here one can see the destruction of the city, the re-growth of the old town and the sprawling green countryside beyond. It's a perfect spot to take in the country and ponder where it's headed.
My journey led me back to Croatia and to sun and obvious wealth, which takes some getting used to after the contrast of Bosnia. Two very different states sitting side by side; next up was Montenegro.
Next time, Tadhg spends time in the Montenegrin towns of Hercog Novi and Budva.