Balkans Road Trip 2018 - Part 10 - Closing thoughts

Part 1. Part 2, Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9

We had a wonderful 3 weeks driving around Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Croatia.

We had an interesting mix of accommodation type - traditional hotels with breakfasts included, actual apartments with full kitchens,  bed and breakfasts and simple comfortable rooms. We had positive interactions with a wide range of people from patient waiters, front desk staff as well as our hosts - whose families have opened their homes to house tourists. Here in America customer service is much more overtly friendly. Certainly a lot more smiles, and more hovering. We found all our interactions to be polite, courteous and professional. We found it interesting that tipping was not expected, and it made it awkward when we did try to tip. (Apart from rounding the bill up.) One thing I really appreciated was at restaurants no matter how crowded, once you had your table and your food and drink, you weren't bothered constantly. I think the expectation was that one would linger and enjoy the meal. There did not seem to be the same pressure to "turn" tables that seems to exist here in America.

Transportation:

I am glad we rented a small shift (manual) car. The road ways we ended up exploring were really narrow. I think we would have really battled with a bigger car. I think that a road trip is the best way to see these countries. The roads are good, and we had mostly very little difficulties navigating.

The driving overall was much more aggressive than what we were used to here. While drivers here in my home town are awful tailgaters, we didn't find tailgating to be a big thing. Rather we had cars overtake on solid white lines, blind rises and around blind curves. Pedestrians were also interesting. Rarely would any vehicle stop for a pedestrian if they were simply standing by the side of the road. Instead, cars would stop or slow down if a pedestrian was in the actual road. I thought that pedestrians were far more vigilant than here.

We used Nova Rent a Car, a local Croatian company. They were great to deal with. I had questions about my booking, and they answered my questions promptly. We had no issues with picking up or dropping the car off. I highly recommend them. We picked up our car in Zagreb down town, and returned it to Zagreb airport prior to our departure.

Bosnia and Herzegovina:

Bosnia and Herzegovina is an amazing country. But it is poorer than Croatia. I think it will only gain in popularity as more American tourists discover it. We found it beautiful and the food and accommodations really cheap. It is a fascinating country. I loved Sarajevo and Mostar. I really would like to return and spend more time exploring. I highly recommend actually staying a couple of nights or longer, instead of simply coming in for a day trip. (It's common for tourists to make the drive, or take a day trip tour to Mostar from Dubrovnik, Croatia) There are parts of this country that are an interesting mix of Eastern and Western Cultures. One of the most magical memories is watching the sunset and the final call to prayer from the local mosque in Mostar. Very moving. Bosnia Herzegovina does deserve a visit for its own sake.

Montenegro:

Like Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro is poor. However, its popular tourist attractions - such as its Bay of Kotor region are well established tourist destinations. Hopefully Montenegro won't be too seduced by tourist dollars to overdevelop some of its coast line. The interior does deserve some additional exploring. Hopefully tourists will linger a few more nights, instead of the popular day tripping option that seems popular. While our visit to Lake Skadar wasn't fantastic - mainly due to not choosing the right vendor, I think it would be an interesting area to spend some time - I think that the lake and the bird life would look particularly spectacular either early in the morning or in the evening.

We did notice than in comparison with Croatia - Montenegro had more visible signs of random dumping. As its economy improves, I do hope that it can get serious about controlling this. Kotor really does have a cat problem. While I am a cat person, the number of cats and cats that didn't look healthy that I saw in Kotor were troubling.

Croatia:

I was surprised at how much I liked Dubrovnik and Split. I easily could have spent longer in both places. Our day trip to Hvar Island was not part of the original plan. I really enjoyed it, and now get what all the fuss is about. It is easy to see why Croatia has become such a hot spot with tourists. Its coast line is gorgeous, and it has beautiful cities. I can see why Dubrovnik is called the "Jewel of the Adriatic" and why Diocletian wanted to build his retirement villa in Split.

One thing that became a common refrain throughout our 3 weeks was that we wished we could spend more time in these countries because we really didn't get to see everything that we thought we would. At least, this gives us an excellent excuse to return. (Although I don't think I am going to need any excuses.)

Travel tips:

1. For this trip we packed only carry on. It worked splendidly. In fact we ended up buying a small case in Split to pack away all our souvenirs. We computed it would be cheaper than shipping our items home via DHL. I really am a fan of the one bag, carry-on only approach to travel. The secret is clothing selection - pick good quality clothing that wicks, and is quick drying. We would do a quick wash and rinse every night. Even with my limited wardrobe I still packed one or 2 items too much. The other thing that I am a fan of is packing cubes. They really are an incredible way to keep clothing and other items under control.

2. We used Booking.com exclusively to book all our accommodations. This was not intentional it just happened that way. Airbnb, Hotels.com and other sites are all good. One thing that I did like about Booking.com was the free cancellation. You just have to watch the dates. But changing dates or itineraries on Booking.com was really easy. (We changed a number of times as we finalized our planning.)

3. Some of our accommodations were apartments with kitchens. I highly recommend this. It is really fun stopping off at the local supermarket, or bakery and browse the shelves for breakfast, and picnic items. It goes without saying that buying some food at local shops does save money. I bought an amazing bottle of the local wine for about $5.

4. Since we had booked our accommodations ahead of time, we made it a rule to always call our hosts about 30 minutes from our destination. (Rule didn't apply to commercial hotels.) And then we would always call them as we got closer so that we could meet, and they would help us with any final directions and parking arrangements. This worked perfectly.

5. There are different types of travelers. We tend to be planners. Not because we have a rigid schedule that we want to follow regardless, but because that's part of the fun for us. Some of the best experiences are the spontaneous unplanned experiences - such as catching the cable car up Mount Srd and watching the sunset over Dubrovnik. Or deciding to spend the day at Hvar Island. Or instead of going to Plitvice National Park, we ended up exploring the sleepy country roads around Rakovica and Dreznik.

6. We use Skyscanner.com to watch for airline price deals. This means that if you are watching for it, you can get some really good deals. The down side is that you may have to make a decision and pay for tickets well in advance of the actual trip. This is because some airline deals just don't last long. Any delay and you may miss out.

7. One good thing about picking up good flight deals, it leaves more room in the budget if you want to pay a little extra to get some more leg room. I do recommend this, especially on the long trans- ocean flights.

8. Travel insurance. We do budget for travel insurance. We buy cancel for any reason trip cancellation or interruption insurance. It will typically includes medical evacuation insurance.

I love traveling. It is so interesting to see how other people live and view the world. I think it is very good for us to get ourselves outside of our comfort zones. I think traveling makes us better.

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Balkans Road Trip 2018 - Part 9 - Krka National Park, Rakovica, Dreznik, & Rastoke

Part 1. Part 2, Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. & Part 10.

It was super easy to check out of our rooms in Split. We had a bit of a challenge at navigating out of Split - but mainly due to driving in an unfamiliar city and a nutty GPS. We wanted to go to Krka National Park on our way to Rakovica.

Parking is free, but there is an entrance fee to get in. There is no car access, instead they load you in buses. We opted instead to walk down.

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We enjoyed being outside, and as we descended towards the lake we got some interesting views.

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Then you do have an option to buy tickets for the ferry ride which we didn't do as we didn't have time. Instead keep going left and eventually you will reach a part of the park where you can walk on walk ways... (There is also a WC, and a place to grab something to eat.)

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The guide books and forums do warn that this does start to get crowded. So it is advisable to get there early. Here is a photo of the walkway... the longer we stayed the more crowded it became.

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It was very pretty, and photogenic...

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and...

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I found the water and waterfalls very photogenic.

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And...

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The water was a beautiful turquoise and crystal clear...

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We enjoyed a rather nice lunch at the restaurant in the park. And then because we were feeling lazy we waited for the bus to take us back to the entrance and parking lot. I do recommend Krka National Park. It is not far from Split, and would make a good day trip if you use Split as a base. I recommend you give yourself the whole day to explore. And get there early before the tour groups arrive. Again, we needed to leave a place that we would've wanted to explore further. However, we needed to press on.

I had booked a single night in the little town of Rakovica, at the Rooms Mirabella.

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I chose this because it was cheap, and close to Plitvice National Park. Our GPS guided us to Mirabella. Our host's mother was there to meet us. She was a nice lady who spoke no English (she spoke German and Croatian.) She showed us to our room, and gave us some coffee and cookies. Mirabella is in a small farm - with an orchard and a meadow with a herd of deer.

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Rakovica is one of many small rural villages in this area. The countryside is gorgeous - narrow country lanes, and rolling hills.

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There were a lot of signs for rooms available. Clearly many folks use these areas for an overnight stay so that they can visit Plitvice. I found this area so pretty and interesting, I think it should be visited for its own sake. In fact we got so distracted ambling around that we ended up not visiting Plitvice at all.

I had the best lamb chops of the trip at restaurant Marko, nearby.

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There are clearly marked bicycle routes through the beautiful countryside.

We even came across some cows...

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We stopped by a cemetery with views of the valley.

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With a beautiful church nearby...

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We decided after reading some materials left in our rooms at Mirabella to visit the old town of Dreznik. An old castle which had been destroyed had been reconstructed. From 1323 - 1592 the Frankopans of Krk ruled the city. From 1592 - 1788 the Turks seized Dreznik, ending with its liberation from Turk rule. In 1791 under the Treaty of Sistova, Dreznik returned to the Habsburg Crown.

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And more ruins...

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We passed farmers fields with hale bales with this hawk perched on one.

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I managed to capture him taking off...

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Beautiful farmers fields of hay...

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We really enjoyed exploring the area around Rakovica. So much so that we had left no time to visit Plitvice. We decided that we would save Plitvice for a return visit.

We decided to stop off at the little town of Rastoke. We had a pleasant visit walking around and taking photos.

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and...

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and..

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Then Kevin wanted to find a Spomenik in a forest called Petrova Gora. We did use the GPS and the forest reminded us of Colorado.

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We eventually turned back without visiting it. We think that the GPS lost its signal and sent us off in the opposite direction. We did manage to see it from afar. The monument is now being used to house cell phone and other communication antenna.

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We were quite convinced that we were on the wrong road heading in the wrong direction...

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It was beautiful to be in these forests. But it wasn't busy. We saw very few other cars driving around.

Here's a view of one of the many Croatian highways. As you can it is a good road, and is well signposted.

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Our hotel, Best Western Stella was a hotel in Zagreb by the airport. We had a flight early the next morning to Frankfurt to catch our flight home to Denver. The plan was to drop our car off at the airport the next morning. For our last night in Croatia we found a restoran called Hrasce nearby our hotel. It was somewhat confusing to get to, but thank goodness for GPS. It was a modest restaurant, but the food was delicious. It also helped that we decided to have an early dinner so at least we could drive when it wasn't so dark.

It is ironic that I had to wait until the end of the trip to have the best lamb. It was delicious - so sweet and succulent, just as I remembered it!

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Balkans Road Trip 2018 - Part 8 - Split, Diocletian's Palace & Hvar Island

Part 1. Part 2, Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 9 & Part 10.

We arrived in Split around 7pm. Our GPS went a little nuts. It really struggles with roads that have no car access.(Usually due to the stairs...)

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Luckily as per our usual practice I had called our host, Petro about 30 minutes from arrival, and had received instructions. We ended up having to meet our host, and then have him drive us in, and park. Our rooms were located just minutes from Diocletian's Palace. We walked into the old city, and grabbed a burger before heading back to bed.

As you may have guessed I have a slight obsession with the laundry out the window thing. Well, our rooms had shutters that opened up, and they had a washing line! So naturally we had to try it. (It works very well.)

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Our rooms in Split did not have a kitchen (only a small fridge which was fine.) So our first morning we ambled into the old City to find some breakfast.

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 This (above) photo is of the closest entrance into Diocletian's Palace from our rooms. I had thought that Diocletian's Palace would be a Roman ruin empty except for tourists. It isn't. It actually is a vibrant old city - filled with shops, hotels and restaurants. It's lived in! We found breakfast at a place (hotel) called Augubio. There we had omelets, juice and coffee.

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The stone and brick walls behind Kevin are original from Diocletian's Palace. After breakfast we found a tourist vendor office and booked for the 12:15pm Walking Tour (100 Kuna per person.) The photo (below) is a reconstruction of what the palace must have looked like. Not bad for a place by the beach to retire to!

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 The tour ended up being a private tour - just us and a very nice guide. We learned about how the different eras left their architectural marks behind - Roman, Venetian, Ottoman and Medieval. Diocletian was quite an emperor. He built this palace (sea views, a Temple of Jupiter - so that he could be worshipped, and of course his own personal army) as his place by the sea. (It certainly puts my retirement plans into perspective!) All the columns came from Egypt.

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Including a couple of Sphinxes...

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One had lost its head, as its head was used as decoration elsewhere...

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Romans loved their arches, and liked big wide windows. Later periods, such as during Medieval times bricked them in and made them smaller.

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We saw evidence of Roman mosaics (for the baths)

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And amazing arches...

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Water fountains...

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Later during the Medieval times, the streets and windows became narrower...

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 Caper bushes grow out of the cracks... (I had no idea what caper bushes actually looked like. My only experience with capers is buying the bottles in the store.)

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More caper bushes, Roman walls, and Roman mosaics...

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The underground cellars are still largely intact, but now house vendors who sell souvenirs to passing tourists...

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The Romans were good engineers, and some of the drains they built are still intact. Like this one we saw in this shop...

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The original Diocletian's Palace was expanded by the Venetians with additional defensive fortifications against the Ottomans.

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This is the view along the Riva. It is lined with restaurants.

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It is gorgeous at sunset...

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We ate dinner at a restaurant in Diocletian's Palace - I had mussels and Kevin had the swordfish. He had a local beer, and I had a glass of local wine.

We decided to catch one of the ferries from Split to Hvar Island. While we were waiting for our City Walking Tour we had walked to the ferry docks and had purchased tickets to leave early in the morning, and to return mid afternoon the following day. The ferry we caught was a passenger only ferry that took us directly to Hvar Town. The car ferry has a different route and landing point. It took about one hour to get from Split to our destination.

Here's a screen shot of Google Maps tracking our location.

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We arrived rather early in Hvar Town, so it was nice to see the town in the morning light. We saw another ferry line picking up waiting passengers...

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 Restaurants and coffee shops lined the small harbor.

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Small boats including water taxis were lined up in the dock...

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A fort overlooks the town...

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There are wide open plazas

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After exploring a little, we decided to walk around the harbor and see whether we could find a spot for a swim.

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I thought that Hvar Town was very pretty.

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I loved how it looked in the morning light.

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It did have a list of rules... which came with some hefty fines (the fines are quoted in euros.)

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 And soon we found a place to swim...

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 The beaches are rocky so wearing water shoes is advisable. We felt too cheap to pay money for the beach chairs. We found a spot to set up for free.

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The water was very clear, and refreshing. We really enjoyed our swim.

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After a nice lazy time by the beach we enjoyed a leisurely stroll back to the Town.

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Passed yachts...

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And...

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We found a restaurant on the plaza and shared a Greek salad and a pizza. After lunch we decided to do some more exploring. The streets are narrow and photogenic. They are lined with restaurants and art shops as well as accommodations for visitors.

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None of the streets were very wide, and some were simply stairs.

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This is the way up the stairs to the fort...

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We got a little distracted by other things, and so never had time to visit the fort.

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We had been so used to seeing cats everywhere we had to stop and take a photo of this friendly canine...

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I found the architectural details quite photogenic - like this griffin...

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and these columns...

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I can see why Hvar Town is such a popular tourist destination. It is very pretty.

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And then things got interesting. The blue sky gave way to gray, and the weather turned bad - we had winds, and rain. I was worried that the ferry would be cancelled due to the storm, and we would be stuck on the island. All the outside seating was packed away due to the wind and rain, which made indoor seating hard to come by. We found a spot for a snack, and took shelter from the wind and rain as we waited for our ferry to arrive, which it did in due course. The ride back to Split was interesting. It felt as though we were in an hour long roller coaster ride as the ferry sailed through some quite rough seas. We had a number of passengers that got sick - really sick. I spent most of the time concentrating on not getting sick. My legs were shaking and my stomach was in knots when we eventually arrived in Split. This was only the second day in our entire 3 week stay where we had rain. Boy was I glad to get back on terra firma. I think that the ferry ride aka the roller coaster ride was the scariest moment of our trip. (Kevin disagrees. For him the drive in Biokovo was more scary.)

We were sad to say good bye to Split. Again, we didn't get to see all the things we wanted to see at the pace we set. I would definitely come back, and I would also spend some more time on the Hvar Island. Our next stop - Krka National Park, and Rakovica.

 

 

 


Balkan Road Trip 2018 - Part 7- Makarska, Biokovo National Park & St Jure Chapel

Part 1. Part 2, Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6Part 8. Part 9 & Part 10.

After a lovely breakfast provided by Ivana on the terrace of our apartment, we checked out. Our next destination - 3 nights in Split. But before we got there we decided to visit Makarska, and Biokovo National Park. The drive from Dubrovnik towards Split takes you through 2 border crossings. This is because Bosnia and Herzegovina extends towards the coast to include the coastal town of Neum and a narrow strip of territory that separates and splits Croatia into two - with Cavtat and Dubrovnik in the south and the rest of the country to the north.

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We decided to stop at Makarska, Croatia for lunch. We shared a salad and some pasta.

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We ate outside and enjoyed the view.

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After lunch we decided to explore the town. We found this amazing square.

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With a stone church and a mountain behind it.

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Kevin wanted to go to Biokovo National Park. We had read about this amazing road up the mountain to St Jure (George) Chapel. So we decided that we would do that. It is a little bit of a back track to get to the entrance of the park. It is 50 kuna per person to get in. They made us wait a little for a swarm of scooters who were coming down and out the park. And then the epic adventure began!

The roads up to St Jure Chapel are paved. But the road gets narrower and narrower the higher one gets.

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As you can imagine it makes passing oncoming cars or scooters quite nail biting. In areas where the road was only a single car wide, you would need to take advantage of the occasional carve outs that would allow two cars to pass. If a carve out was not close by, you would have to reverse until you found one.

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We were very glad that we had rented a small car.

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We found the scenery amazingly stark and beautiful.

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And rugged.

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And...

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We kept thinking that we should be reaching the top soon, but the road continued up and up, winding and zig-zagging up the mountain. This photo gives the phrase "against the ropes" a new meaning!

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We even saw cyclists attempting the route. What a climb!

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 Eventually we got to the top, and found a parking spot in the sky.

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We left our car and followed the path to St Jure. But not before looking back down to see part of the road we had to drive to get there.

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And the views! Did I mention the views?

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The path to the chapel is not far from the parking lot. Just follow the loop and the rope.

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A chapel built on sky.

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 The church of St. Jure is the highest church in Croatia (1,762 meters above sea level.) It is dedicated to St Jure who is supposed to have killed a dragon.

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I certainly can imagine this country side being the hunting grounds of a dragon.

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After the epic and nail biting drive coming up the mountain, we had to go back down. Luckily we had a perfect vantage point. We waited and watched for the arrival of three minivans (we didn't want to meet them on the way down the first section of switchbacks - backing would be a drag!), and then we were off - and down we went... (this photo looks like we are still going up!)

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And down...

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This drive to St Jure Chapel was one of the highlights of our entire trip. It is an amazing drive. But do make sure you have a small car, the roads are incredibly narrow! (Of course, if you are super fit - the bike ride looks like quite the work out!)

This excursion meant a wonderful sunset and arrival in Split around 7pm.


Balkan Road Trip 2018 - Part 6 - Dubrovnik, City Walls & Mount Srd

Part 1. Part 2, Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9 & Part 10.

After an amazing 5 nights in Kotor it was time to head to our next destination - Dubrovnik, Croatia. We planned to spend 3 nights in Dubrovnik. As with all our spots in this amazing trip we found it was too short. We found an alternative border crossing which had no tour buses and we were soon driving in Croatia. We stopped in Cavtat for lunch. We shared a Greek salad and an octopus salad at a restaurant called "Ivan." We found parking at a pay for parking lot.

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The photo above was taken as we walked from our parking spot towards two restaurants. The octopus salad was very tasty.

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As we got close to Dubrovnik I called our host, Ivana. We had booked 3 nights at an apartment in the Port Gruz neighborhood of Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik is not car friendly. We wanted a place where we could safely park our car, and then leave it to explore the Old City. Access from the Port Gruz to the Old City is via bus, or if one was feeling energetic one could walk it (a brisk 30 minutes.) Ivana explained where to meet her. She had been saving a parking space for us. After her other guests had checked out, we ended up moving our car to a reserved parking spot down the street. Access to the apartments was through a Ulica (or street) of stone stairs. Our one bedroom apartment had a bathroom with shower, a kitchen and the best part, a lovely terrace.

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For a small additional fee we could arrange to have a cooked breakfast either inside the apartment or on the terrace.

In the photo below shows the street of stone steps.

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After settling in, we decided to have a nap. After a nap we decided to explore just a little. It was Kevin's birthday so we ended up having dinner at the Amfora restaurant. It was in walking distance from our apartment - you just had to go down the street of stairs until you reached the bottom. I had the beef, and Kevin had the sea bass. I had a glass of the most amazing local wine.

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We sat outside and enjoyed the evening. The beef was amazingly tasty and tender.

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After a leisurely dinner, we went back to our apartment where we lit candles provided and sat on the terrace and shared a local Croatian beer (complimentary supplied by our host) and ate ice cream we picked up from the local market. Bliss. 

We had organized with Ivana to have breakfast the next morning on the terrace. We had omelets, coffee and juice.

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The easiest way to get to Old City Dubrovnik is to catch the bus. We had the option of catching bus numbers 1A, 1B or 3 at the bus stop in Port Gruz (an easy walk down stairs to the port below.) The buses take you into a bus station right outside the old City (Pile Gate.) It sure gets crowded on the buses. One day it was early and all the buses were full. We did walk - it is not impossible, although it could be unpleasant in the heat without water. We also ended up buying the 24 hour tickets. These allowed you to catch the buses back and forth (Old City and Port Gruz) numerous times in a 24 hour period. We opted not to buy the Dubrovnik City Tourist Cards - given what we wanted to see and do, and did not make sense to us. (Purchasing these cards may make sense for you. It all depends on what you want to do. Just do the math.)

There is no comparing Dubrovnik to Kotor. Kotor is small, quaint and kind of crumbly. Don't get me wrong, I loved Kotor. But Dubrovnik is amazing - its old city is large, its walls massive. Also Dubrovnik was heavily bombed during the wars. Most of it has been repaired- you can imagine the extent of the damage by counting the number of new looking roof tops.

For our first day we caught the bus to the old city, and then spent a leisurely day wondering around. The crowds and tour groups were out in full force. The Stradun (main central thoroughfare) was packed with tourists. This made us immediately dive into the small narrow side streets. Like Kotor, it was fun to wander around and get lost.

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Cats were in evidence, but not in the numbers that was so noticeable in Kotor. They also appeared to be healthier and better fed. It was fun to amble the side streets, and when we found a cafe in a square we would stop and have something to drink, and engage in our favorite past time - people watching. We visited the Dubrovnik Cathedral and St Ignatius Church. Both had free entry. (We like free.)

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This is the (above) Dubrovnik Cathedral from the outside, and (below) the interior...

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 For lunch we found a small family run restaurant in one of the narrow side streets. We shared a tuna salad and a plate of local cheese. Public transportation is really convenient, and it was kind of fun to catch the bus. The 24 hour bus ticket made the most sense to us. (There are no limits to the number of city bus rides within a 24 hour period.) Easy to buy at the ticket shop at Port Gruz. This meant we could catch the bus to and from the old City without too much trouble. That meant an afternoon nap and then a bus trip back to the old city for the evening.

We spent an evening having dinner,

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listening to live music

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and people watching.

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The Old City is very attractively lit at night. There are so many people out and about - tourists and locals. The buses run late. It is really a wonderful vibe and we felt perfectly safe.

One thing that I haven't mentioned is the ice cream. Kevin would always find a place where he could buy a scoop of ice cream. (He would give me a taste, but ice cream is his thing.)

This photo is of one of the many ice cream shops we found all over. This one happens to be in Dubrovnik.

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One must see activity is to walk the City Walls. There is an entrance fee of 300 Kuna each. Credit cards or cash (kuna only) are accepted. Euros are not accepted. If you buy the Dubrovnik Tourist Card the City Walls are included. We decided to go early. As early as we could stand it. The buses from Port Gruz were packed. So we decided to walk - it was lovely to do this walk into the Old City. It's a brisk 30 minutes, and I am glad it was in the morning. We had packed lots of water. We started our City Wall walk at the entrance near Pile Gate. There was already a line for tickets around 8:15am when we arrived. I am glad we went as early as we did.

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The light was beautiful, and while there were people around it wasn't packed.

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You can see new roofs (showing where roofs had been repaired and replaced after the Serbian and Montenegrin bombing of the city) and old roofs.

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There are lots of steps. It took us about 1.5 hours to walk around the city.

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We went at a very slow pace, mainly because we were stopping to take photos. Given how narrow the walls are in places, it is a good thing that the walk is one way. Everywhere we looked there was a photo. Such as this photo (below) of old and new roofs...

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My fascination with washing lines continues...

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The Wall Walk affords amazing views looking down on the Old City...

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Amazing gardens...

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But also views outside...

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Such as...

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And...

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And...

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Along the walls are the occasional restaurant offering overpriced water, juices and meals. I am glad we followed advice and did the walls as early as we did - there is no shade. I would imagine it would be extremely hot and unpleasant to do it any later.

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 Another absolutely must see is to catch the Cable Car up to Mount Srd to go to the war museum and watch the sunset. So after a nice nap we again caught the bus to Pile Gate, and after buying tickets, walked to the cable car station. Cable car tickets are 150 kuna per person, round trip. Cash only.

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For 30 kuna per person we visited the War of Homeland Museum at the top. It told the harrowing story of the Serbian and Montenegrin attack on Dubrovnik. It told the story of the incredible bravery of civilians and how a under resourced Croatian force tried to defend the city. There was an illusion that Dubrovnik under UNESCO's protection would be spared the destruction in case of war. This proved to be erroneous.

The City was blockaded as the Serbian and Montenegrin forces used former Yugoslavian Navy to blockade the city. This diagram (below) shows the extent of the destruction of the Old City. The Serbian and Montenegrin attack on Dubrovnik Old City (a world heritage site) drew wide spread international condemnation.

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Serbian and Montenegrin forces also attacked the Fort Mount Srd. There were only 31 defenders defending the Fort on Mount Srd (which is where the Museum is located.)

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This photo (below) is of the Fort, which now houses the museum.

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The Museum describes how the Croatians tried to protect themselves from Serbian and Montenegrin forces, the destruction, the Croatian offensive and the eventual reconstruction. The museum serves as another reminder of the tragic human cost of war.

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Given the reconstruction of Dubrovnik, and that it now is a vibrant city visited by tourists from around the world, it is hard to think that only twenty odd years ago this was happening.

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This museum is well worth a visit. After the museum we went outside to enjoy the sunset. There are still remnants from the war - trenches for artillery, and the defense of Fort Srd.

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We spent a wonderful time exploring, and enjoying the light as we watched the sunset. It was simply magical.

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And...

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 After sunset it was time to join the long lines, get into the cable car and head back down to the Old City for a light dinner - cheese and wine, and people watching.

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We had an amazing time in Dubrovnik.

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We really didn't get to do all the things we thought we were going to do. We really didn't want to rush around like headless chickens, and try and cram everything in. We wanted to take our time and relax. That does mean of course that we have a perfect excuse to return (although I really need no excuse at all.)

Our next stop - Split.


Balkan Road Trip 2018 - Part 5 - Montenegro - Podgorica, Pavlova Strana & Lake Skadar National Park

Part 1. Part 2, Part 3. Part 4. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9 & Part 10.

We had booked 5 nights at Pearl Apartments in old town Kotor. Our plan was to use that as a base, and take some days to take the car and do some exploring. Montenegro is a small country. But it is filled with mountains, some very dramatic mountains, and some very narrow and crazy winding roads. We had read about the switchbacks on a road heading out of Kotor towards Cetinjie, and then onwards to the country's capital - Podgorica. We decided to take a day and do some driving. The first adventure was making sure we found the famous switchback road, which we managed to find with a few adjustments, thanks to Google Maps. There are something like 25 switchbacks up a dramatic hillside. The road is narrow, and at the time we marveled how close we came to oncoming cars. We even marveled at how an enormous tour bus managed to make the turns. (Of course, we did not know what was yet to come...) If you decide to drive this, I would recommend you do it in the morning, before the traffic picks up.

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The views of the bay, and the airport at Tivat were stunning. What wasn't so nice was evidence of casual dumping of trash. It's a pity, and one hopes that Montenegro would realize the value of getting its trash disposal under control. What is the point in have some of the most beautiful countryside in the world, and have it marred by trash?

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At the top of the winding road, the views are quite spectacular.

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There is even a restaurant at the top.

We then proceeded along the road towards Podgorica. We passed through rural villages, and small farms. This (below) is the small hamlet of Njegusi (NYEH-goo-shee.)

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Cetinjie used to be the old capital, and Podgorica, capital city of modern Montenegro. It was quite a bit hotter in the capital city. We found a pay for parking site, and after parking the car we thought we would amble around the city. We were in a neighborhood of bars and restaurants, the streets were lined with plane trees- clearly where the "it" crowd were hanging out. We found a restaurant, called "Hugo" were we got a table. I am ashamed to say I ended up ordering a burger. So much for trying out local cuisine. Podgorica is definitely not a tourist city. But interesting nonetheless.

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There was a large square with a fountain and administrative buildings. The guide books describe Podgorica as "drab." I don't disagree.

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After lunch, and an amble we thought we would press on with our "loop" explore. There is an amazing photo spot we wanted to see whether we could find. The site is called Pavlova Strana. Again thanks to modern technology of GPS and Google Maps we were able to locate it. It really is an off the beaten track site, and I highly recommend it. The roads to the spot are quite narrow, and you gain in elevation.

At the overlook site there is the "Panorama Hotel-Gazivoda." It didn't look open. However, a friendly small dog did come out and wag her tail at us.

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The views were spectacular.

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These rivers empty out into Lake Skadar (not visible from this viewpoint.) We thought that the scenery was so beautiful and unexpected, that we really wanted to do a drive to Lake Skadar National Park. We resolved that we would leave the visit for the next day.

One thing that is simply lovely is early morning in Kotor. This is before the cruise ships empty their passengers into the old town. We wanted to hike up the hill to get a good view and some photos of Kotor. Kotor old town is quite small. There is an entrance fee to access the path/ walls up the hill behind Kotor. You are actually walking on top of the walls, as they zig zag up the hill. Luckily there are stone steps laid into them, which helps with balance. I certainly got my steps in that morning.

This photo (below) shows the steepness, and the stone steps zig zagging up the hill side.

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The selfie...

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A rock garden...

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and a group of cats came out to inspect us...

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The higher we got, the better the views. In the photo below, you can see a cruise ship coming into port. You can also see where the old town ends, and the modern city begins. We are in shadow because of the high mountains around us. As the sun rises, the shadowed city gets bathed in sunlight.

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While we were hiking up the hillside, the bells of the cathedral tolled. On the way up there is a stone chapel - Church of Our Lady of Health. We opted only to go a little higher than the chapel, before we decided to turn back and head back down (we wanted to drive to Lake Skadar National Park and do some more exploring.)

This photo (below)  is taken slightly above the chapel. The views are quite stunning.

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Inside the Chapel...

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As we headed down, we saw vendors getting set up for the day - there were religious trinket vendors, and those who were selling water.

After we got back down to our apartment, we grabbed our day packs, snacks and our cameras. It was time to head out in the car to go to Lake Skadar. Lake Skadar National Park contains the Balkans' largest lake. It's partly in Montenegro, and partly in Albania. We headed for Virpazar, a tiny town beside a river which is the main entrance into the park. This tiny town even has a fortress. We parked our car, and then after talking to a nice lady who shared a juicy plum with us, we ended up being talked into parting with 25 euros per person for a 2 hour boat ride. We had a little bit of a wait. So we ended up sitting on the terrace of Hotel Vir, drinking bitter lemon and nibbling on a plate of cheese. Hotel Vir is a depressing place - an ode to 1970 Communist era architecture, accompanied by art work in the dining room of workers glumly toiling in the fields. The restrooms are clean.

What we should have done, was follow our initial plan of actually finding a vendor recommended on Tripadvisor. Well you live and learn. We were not the only tourists on this boat. We had 2 other German couples. Our boat driver spoke no English, and no German. For 2 hours we chugged around an incredibly large body of water, through amazing lily pad fields with water birds. We saw fortress ruins in the distance, and even a chapel. All of this was undertaken in complete silence. The guide books talk about island monasteries, and the amazing bird life. Given what we paid for 2 hours, it would have been nice to have had some commentary. By the end of the trip, even the Germans had had enough. Don't get me wrong, I will certainly return to this magical stop. But next time, we will do it right. I think we will definitely stay there. I think spending a couple of nights so that you can take advantage of early morning light is a good idea. Also, actually spending the money on a recommended tour group is a better idea.

This is a photo of some of the views from our boat.

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It was hot, and we were glad of the canopy so we had some shade.

The fields of lily pads are quite spectacular. And we saw quite a bit of bird life. This photo (below) shows a Cormorant in the foreground and a tour boat in the background. Note the amazing mountains in the distance. We saw coots, grebes, mergansers, herons, crows and what looked like some kind of hawk.

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After our boat ride came to an end, we got back into our little car, and headed back to Kotor passing through Budva (very built up resort town - reminded me of Amanzimtoti, South Africa.) Then we decided instead of taking the short cut through the tunnel to Kotor, we would take the coastal road. The road got narrower and narrower. It was quite challenging when faced with oncoming cars.

We loved our time in Montenegro. The scenery is just gorgeous. We really needed to spend longer in this region. We will definitely be back!

 After 5 nights in Montenegro it was time for us to head to our next stop - Dubrovnik, Croatia.

 


Balkan Road Trip 2018- Part 4 - Radimlja, Stolac, Trebinje, Kotor

 Part 1. Part 2, Part 3. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9 & Part 10.

Our route from Mostar to Kotor, Montenegro included stops at Radimlja, Stolac, and Trebinje before making our way into Montenegro, and then onwards to Kotor. We had booked 5 nights in an apartment in the old town of Kotor. For Montenegro, the currency used is Euros. We were sad to say goodbye to Belma and her parents (our Mostar hosts). Our first stop was Stolac - well actually a site called Radimlja which is the site of a medieval necropolis with the most amazing looking tombstones.

We ended up missing the turn for Radimlja and so instead went into the town of Stolac, parked our car and ambled around.

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We found parking next to a river, lined with trees. In the river we saw ducks, and a white egret. I thought that this ruined house with a tree growing out the window made for an interesting photo.

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 But we were mindful of time passing, and we really wanted to see the medieval tombstones. We retraced our steps and came across the sign. There was parking and a small modest visitors center with restrooms. We paid the entry fee and then walked to the tombstones. If you are not paying attention it is easy to miss the sign post as we did the first time.

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As you can see in this photo where Kevin poses amongst them, that they are quite large. Some had very interesting carvings of knights and swords...

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and noble families...

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It is believed that these tombstones date back to the 13th - 15th century. The carvings are said to be from the early Bosnian church.

Soon it was time to get going. The countryside was filled with rolling hills, and farmer's fields. We saw vineyards...

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We had read about the town of Trebinje. We decided to stop there and explore. We managed to find some "free" parking, and decided to walk around.

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We found a beautiful park with trees, and cool shade.

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 With a beautiful church...the Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Cathedral.

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We located the tourist office, who gave us directions into the "old" city. Trebinje is unique due to its abundance of white stone.

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After a light lunch of local cheeses and fresh bread we decided to press on towards Montenegro. We opted to follow the more well signposted route. So we followed the signs to Herceg Novi, Montenegro. We had no wait time crossing the border from Bosnia and Herzegovina, into Montenegro. They did want to see the rental car's "green card" - papers which our rental agency had supplied us. The road down into Herceg Novi is simply breathtaking.

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The road around the bay is stunning. As we wound our way, we had the sun in the best spot, and we had perfect light. Vladimir, our host in Kotor had given us directions to park our car in free (but unreserved) parking outside Kotor. Our apartment was inside Kotor's old town. It is pedestrian access only.

We loved being based in Kotor. We had a full kitchen. IDEA, the local supermarket was just outside the old town gates. We would stock up on eggs, salami, cheese, ajvar and local wine.

Here is Kevin posing with breakfast (he is about to make the scrambled egg.)

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 Our host provided a local cell phone. If we wanted the apartment serviced, I would just call the number programmed in the local cell phone, and arrange for someone to clean. It worked perfectly.

The access to our apartments was off a narrow street with shiny cobbled stones. This is very similar to all little streets in Kotor. Below is a photo that shows the street. Access to our apartment was through the arched doors...

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The old town of Kotor is small with an amazing maze of tiny streets that open up randomly into squares made for people watching. Our most favorite activity was simply to amble around the old town, and get lost. The city itself backs up against a rugged hill. There is a wall circling the city. This photo (below) is of the main square.

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 A cruise ship is in port...

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This photo (above) was taken from the wall of the old city. In places the wall was very narrow to walk on...

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but provided some unique vantage points.

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We could see the wall snaking up the hill side. It looked somewhat daunting.

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I became fascinated with shutters that actually acted as shutters, and wash lines...

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More ...

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and...

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What beautiful views of the bay...

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In this photo (below) we are outside looking in. The Old Town of Kotor has impressive thick walls.

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Kotor is a City of Cats....

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And tourists are obsessed with cats...

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 and..

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Consequently there are very few pigeons in the squares...

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Kotor even has a Cat Museum...

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A carefully curated collection of cat curiosities...

Who knew that Vladimir Putin was such a cat fancier?

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While I love cats (and one amazing cat in particular) even I can't help but think that the cats of Kotor are a bit of a problem. There were some very thin and malnourished looking individuals. I also don't think that the current population is very healthy - there are just too many of them.

We had one day of rain. We used that day to visit the Cat Museum. The rain also created wonderful reflections on the stones.

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Up next? Our trip to Lake Skadar...

 


Balkan Road Trip 2018 - Part 3 Mostar, Blagaj Tekke, Pocitelj

Part 1. Part 2, Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9 & Part 10.

After a good breakfast at our Sarajevo hotel, we checked out. We were driving to our next stop, Mostar. Kevin had done some reading about the road along the Neretva River, and we were really excited to see what it would be like.

The road was very good. There were farm stands along the road - selling fruit and honey.

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The road is well signposted. The A-1 toll road was open, but we opted for a slightly slower, more scenic route. The first big town is Konjic. We parked at Restoran Han which overlooked a pretty river (Neretva). There we had Bosnian coffee for the first time.

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and

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We asked our kind waiter to show us how it's done. Each serving comes with sugar cubes. You place the sugar cubes in the little ceramic cup, and then carefully pour the coffee into the ceramic cup, stirring the coffee and the sugar. The extra hot water was to add to the coffee. Bosnian coffee is made to be sipped slowly. It is strong, but smooth. We loved it. The Turkish Delight candy is to be enjoyed afterwards. Do not put it in the coffee.

We continued along the road through the most amazing countryside. The river is the most amazing color. The mountains are dramatic and very photogenic.

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Kevin used this opportunity to scout out and mark the spot for a photograph that he wanted to try and shoot- but for the next day.

We had booked a room at Pansion Villa Nur. Our room had a balcony overlooking the river. Pansion Villa Nur is located within Old Town Mostar. We arranged to call our host, whose father met us at the top of a very narrow, cobbled "street". He drove our little car down to the Pansion. Thank goodness he did. It was very narrow and challenging.

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Our rental car is the silver one. As you can see you really need a small car. Do not get anything larger!

This (photo below) is our Pansion from the other side (the family lived on the first 2 floors.) We had a room on the top floor - and middle balcony. The minaret in the background is from one of the many mosques in Mostar.

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The guide books talk about Mostar as being a good place to visit for a day trip (from Dubrovnik, Croatia especially). However, it is a good place to spend the night or two. We had two nights in Mostar, and I am glad we did. The most favorite times was early in the morning - having breakfast and watching the vendors get ready for the influx of day-trippers, and in the evening with the final Muslim call to prayer, and watching the moon rise.

The old town of Mostar, is famous for the Old Bridge (Stari Most.) This bridge was a most magnificent architectural relic from Ottoman times. The 1992 - 1995 conflict devastated the town (although reports of civilian casualties were low.) The defense of the city was left to Croat and Bosniak armies (long time allies) against the Serbs. It's a little hard to make head or tail of this, but the Croat and Bosniak allies ended up fighting with each other, and the beautiful bridge was totally destroyed by Croatian tank bombardment. Nothing like a bit of double crossing! In 2004 the bridge was reconstructed, as a symbol of unity. Again, according to my guidebooks Mostar still remains divided along religious lines.

 This photo (below) is a view from the bridge.

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Here are some views of the bridge...

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and the old town - stone walls, windows bordered with flower pots...

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Vendors getting ready for the day trippers...

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 We decided to travel to Blagaj Tekke. It was not far away from Mostar. Again we used our GPS and Google Maps to get there. It was built around 1520 was a monastery for Sufi Muslims. We wanted to see it for ourselves, and it wasn't far to drive from Mostar to it. On the advice of our hosts, we found a nice place to park, in the shade for a fee. We then opted to walk to the Tekke. We could see that this place could soon become overrun with tour buses and crowds.

It wasn't far to walk from our car to the Tekke. Although we were glad for some water, as it did get quite hot.

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 Even the roofs were made of stone.

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The area where the Tekke (monastery) was located had a number of very pretty restorans.

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Along the road towards the Tekke, vendors lined the street selling souvenirs, figs, water and cold drinks. We stopped off at the vendors to buy cold water, and the most delicious figs.

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The Tekke, itself is beautiful. It seems to float on the water.

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And...

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After some exploring we ended up having lunch of cheese, olives and bread at one of the many local restorans. It was very tasty.

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After lunch, we walked back to our car, paid the attendant and then decided to continue to do some exploring.

We found the tiny medieval town of Pocitelj. Parking is free- and we parked in an available space just next to the main road. The town itself is amazingly quaint. You have to walk. Kevin found the most amazing frozen pomegranate juice that he bought from a local lady.

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We needed the juice as the walk was up hill, and the weather quite toasty.

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On top of the hill, overlooking the town (it's really a village) is the Sahat Kula - a fort that housed the watchman to guard against attack from the Neretva Valley. Apparently the old town used to be completely surrounded by a protective wall. We enjoyed wandering the maze of winding steps.

Beautiful views...

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Shaded, secret places...

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 And pomegranate trees...

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We did purchase some souvenirs while we were there. It was a delightful little village.

Then we decided to head back towards Mostar, and then north on the M17 highway to our special photo spot.

Again, we were blown away with how photogenic this area is. It reminded me strongly of Poudre Canyon, with a bigger river and higher mountain walls.

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After 2 nights in Mostar, it was time once again for us to pack up and head onwards to our next adventure - Kotor, Montenegro.

 


Balkans Road Trip 2018 Part 2 - Banja Luka, Sarajevo

Part 1. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9 & Part 10.

The border crossing from Croatia into Bosnia and Herzegovina was easy and quick. At the border , we entered the Republika Srpska (translation "Serb Republic" ) area of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a complicated country to explain. Here Kevin tries to summarize:

After the fall of Yugoslavia in 1991,  Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence in April 1992. Immediately the Serb majority population regions of Bosnia (with the military assistance of the country of Serbia) tried to expel or murder all non-Serbs within these regions, wanting to create ethnically pure regions allied with the nearby nation of Serbia.  They also sought to conquer as much neighboring territory as possible - laying multi-year sieges to some of the largest cities in Bosnia: Sarajevo, Mostar and Bihac.  At the end of the Bosnian War in 1995, the UN-mediated Dayton Accords created two separate and distinct political and geographic entities within the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (51% of land area) for the Bosniak and Croat population, the Republic of Srpska (49% of land area) for the Serb population. Most of the territory the Bosnian Serbs acquired through ethnic cleansing, they were permitted to keep - with some minor re-drawing of the final war-time frontlines especially in northwest Bosnia. There are no formal prohibitions for any ethnic group living in any region (some of the displaced/expelled residents moved back to their original cities/villages), however the country is far more ethnically segregated than it was prior to 1991. The boundaries between the Federation and Republika Srpska are not marked with checkpoints. Republika Srpska loudly announces you are entering their territory with a large flag and sign in both Latin and Cyrillic lettering. The Federation does not mark the internal border in any way.

After a wrong turn, we re-studied our paper map and GPS and drove on narrow paved roads through small farming villages to the city of Banja Luka (population 185,000) - the capital of the Republic of Srpska.

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It was the only city where we stopped where we got some funny looks. Although a very nice woman explained to us (we think) that parking was free on Sunday. (She spoke no English, and we spoke no Serbian.) We also wanted to stop at an ATM and withdraw Bosnian Marks. This is the currency that is used in Bosnia Herzegovina.
This is a Serbian Orthodox Christian Church. We only had time to take a photo from the outside.

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And then, because we had spent so much time at the Jasenovac, Croatia WW2 memorial, we really needed to press on, as Sarajevo, our final destination was some time away, and we wanted to avoid driving at night.

This is when things went rapidly down hill... there is no, or virtually no signage out of Banja Luka indicating the way to Sarajevo. Sarajevo is the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This meant we wasted over 2 hours driving around, heading off into directions where we had no cell phone signal, driving in sweaty, frustrated circles trying to find that one small, tiny sign that indicates "Sarajevo" at a traffic circle. And thereafter, once you make a guess, there are no additional signs until you are out of Srpska that you are indeed on the road to Sarajevo.

I told this story later to our tour guide in Sarajevo. He explained that the Republic of Srpska does not recognize Sarajevo as their capital - hence the lack of signage. Another tourist in our group told his story - about how his train from Srpska ended up at a train station "Sarajevo" but was not the actual Sarajevo but in "East Sarajevo"  (in Republika Srpska)  far outside the actual city. Our guide also explained that taxi cabs registered with Republika Srpska are not allowed to drive into Bosnia, and have to remove their taxi decals if they accept business into Bosnia proper. I have no idea whether this is factual, as the only experience I had was with the lack of signage. Very confusing and difficult for outsiders. I think Banja Luka would be a worthwhile destination for tourists to add to their trips. They just need to do something with their signage.

Eventually we got on the right road. We did not have any time to stop off at the pretty town of Jajce, as we had previously planned.  Instead I snapped these shots from the car...

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and...

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We reached Sarajevo just as the sun was setting. Luckily both GPS and the iPhone was working, because we needed both forms of navigation to battle through traffic, what seemed like countless traffic circles to get into old town Sarajevo, and finally to our hotel - the Hotel VIP.

The Hotel VIP is very closely located to the Old Town Sarajevo. It's entrance is off what looks like an alley way. It is a small boutique hotel, wonderfully situated and very comfortable. I would definitely stay there again. We were grateful to hand over our keys to the front desk as the parking gymnastics looked incredibly difficult. On this trip, the expertise of locals to be able to squeeze their cars into the tiniest spaces continues to amaze me!

After we checked in, we got a recommendation and directions to a place where we could try the famous Balkan  food cevapi (pronounced sheh-vah-pee) -the most amazing grilled sausages. You order by weight - we ran into a couple of issues as we were not acclimated to metric. I can tell you that 200 grams of meat is enormous. The meat comes stuffed in what looks like some kind of pita bread - except it is thicker and seems to absorb the juices better than a traditional pita bread. Raw, sliced onions are served as well. I found oddly enough, that eating the raw onions with the meat actually seemed to help with digestion. (Well that is my story and I am sticking to it.)

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 The next morning, after a nice breakfast at our hotel, we decided to amble around. The hotel recommended a company (no more than a short walk away) who offered free walking tours. We decided to do a quick explore on our own, and then have the free tour. As per usual, thanks to jet lag we were up quite early. There is the old quarter - and then the Austro Hungarian areas, and then expanding outwards along a river is the rest of the city. Sarajevo is completely surrounded by hills.

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We learned all about the brutal significance of those surrounding hills later.

We walked over the bridge and to the spot which started world war 1. On June 28, 1914 a young Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Austro-Hungarian heir and his wife, Sofia. Our guide on our free walking tour described the unfolding events very dramatically. Of course, we were standing on the very place where the assassination occurred. In the photo below follow the bridge from left to right, and you will see a building with the "Museum" sign. The assassination occurred outside that building as the car turned down the street.

The car convoy had already been attacked once unsuccessfully. Instead of abandoning the trip and whisking the Archduke and his wife to safety, they decided to proceed but change the route. However, someone supposedly forgot to tell the driver. Gavrilo Princip was waiting for the car. Apparently there was a coffee shop at the site where the museum is now. There was some confusion as the car came, and turned (where it was not supposed to go.) He took advantage of the confusion, left the coffee shop and shot the Archduke and his wife dead.

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For some, he is still to this day regarded as a Serbian hero.

We managed to ask a tourist to take a photo of the two of us.

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The guide books describe Sarajevo as a cross roads between East and West. Byzantium, Ottoman, Roman, Venetian and Viennese empires brought their culture, traditions and religions.

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 The photo above this is one of the oldest churches/ monasteries in Sarajevo. It was built at the beginning of Ottoman rule.

On our free walking tour.

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A cat prowls on a roof above...

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We visited the courtyard of one of the many mosques, and home to one of the few publicly owned lunar clocks.

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The entrance of the Mosque is beautiful with places for worshipers to place their shoes (after they have bathed their feet in the fountains.)

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Or drink from the refreshing water...

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Along with Mosques we saw beautiful Catholic cathedrals..

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In the square before this church Serbian gunmen opened fire on worshipers who were attending services during the Siege of Sarajevo . It became a practice to paint red rosettes on the sites of these killings as a way to never forget. Over time, and foot traffic most of the rosettes have faded. We found a good example of one later - in a different area. The old town is a curious mixture of old and very old, and of eastern and western influences.

After the walking tour had ended we shared a tasty burek. This is a pastry that comes stuffed with cheese and spinach. (It does come in other variations - such as cheese only, and in some regions it comes stuffed with meat.) And then Kevin wanted to see whether we could find the way ourselves to the Yellow Fortress to get more of an overlook view of the city. We found more narrow cobbled streets that took us up and up.

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This is a photo of the cobbled streets...

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We walked up the hill past a cemetery filled with those who had perished during the Siege of Sarajevo.

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To the Yellow Fortress at the top of the hill...

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Where we found a restaurant with views of the hills surrounding the city, and the city below...

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We had a great vantage point, and could see the city before us.

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and,

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We even had kittens.

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The afternoon light was wonderful.

As we walked back down we marveled at the narrow streets and creative parking.

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The next morning, we explored some more.

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and watched a riveting game of chess at a local park...

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We had signed up to take (for a fee) the "Fall of Yugoslavia" tour. This tour included details about the Siege of Sarajevo (1992 - 1995) - 1,425 days under siege, and 11,541 people killed.

We were taken to an old hospital - its scars still visible after Serbian forces occupying the surrounding hills had deliberately shelled a working hospital.

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I foolishly asked our guide what were they thinking to commit these atrocities in this day and age? His reply? The people that did this have never been punished, and they walk around free to this day.

 The Siege of Sarajevo was one of the longest sieges against civilians. The Serbs used a large arsenal of weapons from the former JNA (Yugoslavia National Army) that was headquartered in Belgrade, Serbia. Sarajevans had no few weapons to defend themselves, essentially only what local policemen had,  supplemented with what could be smuggled in past the United Nations weapons embargo.  Instead all they had was a stubborn will not to give in. But they lived through so much terror. We learned in detail about this in a 2 hour visit to a Museum of Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide. We were shocked and horrified by what we saw depicted in pictures, videos, and witness accounts from Sarajevo and rural Bosnian villages.

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The UN did nothing except hold the airport (for relief efforts.) The Sarajevan resistance bravely and secretly constructed a tunnel from Sarajevo under the airport to safety beyond. They used this tunnel to bring arms and ammunition to defend civilians.

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The people refused to be terrorized. They even held a beauty pageant - "Miss Besieged Sarajevo!"

 

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Our guide was just 7 during the siege. He says he cannot remember what it was like before the siege.

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 Only a portion of the tunnel remains intact...

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In this photo below is a example of a "rose of Sarajevo". These "roses" were used to symbolically mark places where 1 or more Sarajevo residents were killed by a exploding shell. Red paint was used to fill in the holes in concrete created by the fatal shell. Most "roses" have disappeared as new construction and re-paving covered them. However many will be left as permanent reminders. It is stunning to read the statistic that during the 1,425 day siege of Sarajevo, an average of 300 shells a day were launched at the defenseless residents of this relatively small (in area) city. We were walking in exactly the same streets where people walked in fear, going to fetch daily water, food, or wood to burn to keep warm.

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 Our guide explained that the way the country is now run all Croats, Serbs and Bosniaks elect leaders. The country has 3 of everything. In order for any decisions to happen they have to agree. This rarely happens so nothing gets done. Croat, Serb and Bosniak children do not go to the same school, or learn the same things. They too are separate. It reminds me of Apartheid - except for religion - Serbs = Orthodox Christian, Croats = Catholic, and Bosniak = Muslim.

Our tour took us up into the hills to the site of the Olympic bobsled. The air was fresh and the walk along the bobsled through the forest to our waiting van was peaceful.

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The forest was starting to reclaim the concrete- it was sad, but strangely peaceful...

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We had a very informative and thought provoking tour. I loved our time in Sarajevo. I would definitely come back and spend more time there. It is in a remarkably beautiful natural setting, a very stimulating street life yet such an incredibly tragic recent history. The large new hillside cemeteries with the thousands of names are painful and essential reminders of lives cut short only 25 years ago.

Our next stop - Mostar.


Balkans Road Trip 2018 Part 1- Zagreb & Jasenovac Memorial Site

It was Kevin's idea to travel to Croatia. The trip then morphed into a road trip over three weeks that included Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Croatia. Part 2, Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9 & Part 10.

Trip Itinerary:

  1. Zagreb, Croatia  2 nights
  2. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina  3 nights
  3. Mostar, , Bosnia and Herzegovina  2 nights
  4. Kotor, Montenegro  5 nights
  5. Dubrovnik, Croatia  3 nights
  6. Split, Croatia  3 nights
  7. Rakovica, Croatia  1 night
  8. Zagreb, Croatia  1 night

 We flew Denver to Frankfurt. We had a layover in Frankfurt of about 7 hours. We caught the train (S 8) into downtown Frankfurt (Hauptwache station), enjoyed wandering around, and ate lunch, before heading back to the airport to catch our flight to Zagreb. Definitely doable and recommended, rather than spending the entire time in the airport. Baggage hold between Terminal 1, Hall B, Arrivals level. Train station is under the terminal 1 in arrivals. Signage is good. Cannot use American credit cards in the ticket machine. Use cash (euros) instead.

We arrived in Zagreb around 7:30pm. Used Uber to get from airport to hotel in Downtown Zagreb. The Best Western Astoria is very well situated, and after crashing, we enjoyed exploring Zagreb the next day.

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This photo was the view from our hotel window, and it was one of our first sights of Zagreb. We were so jet lagged we were up and awake very early. Our strategy after a nice hearty breakfast provided by the hotel, was to do some exploring. The old town of Zagreb is very walkable, and accessible. There are lots of tourist maps and signs about. It really doesn't take long to explore on foot. The currency used in Croatia is the kuna. ATMs are plentiful and are easy to use to get cash. Always decline the currency conversion.

From our hotel it was a short and easy walk to the square which was in the midst of celebrating the Vegan lifestyle. For a big city we found the city quite clean. We appreciated the street art.

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And...

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and,

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From the square we ambled until we came across the Zagreb Cathedral

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The Zagreb Cathedral was initially completed in 1217. Over the years due to attacks, fires and an earthquake the Cathedral enjoyed a number of reconstructions - resulting in 1880- 1902 the general restoration which gave the Cathedral its current appearance. As we walked around the square and followed the signs to the various sites we could see locals and tourists mingling;- locals getting to work or going to church, and tourists following tour guides around. We walked north on Kaptol, turned left and ended up in Tralciceva, a shopping zone with lots of shops, and restaurants. We ended up going back to this zone for lunch, and then later for dinner.

 I bought some lavender sachets from a vendor in the flower market.

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We had to get back for a nap (we were still very jet lagged.) We set the alarm because we had scheduled to pick up our car rental at the rental company (pick up only 2 blocks from hotel.) After collecting our car, we parked it in the hotel's parking lot. We were weak with hunger so decided to return to the nice street with all the restaurants.

We had a lunch at "Bela Kod Mike." This restaurant was located in the Tralciceva street. I had pork stuffed with cheese.

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We walked to St. Mark's. It is unexpectedly up an incline, and one comes across it unexpectedly (at least that is what we felt at the time.)

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The roof is really quite striking.

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Closeup of roof.

While we were there, a wedding party arrived for photographs. It was quite striking - the bride and party in the foreground, St. Mark's in the background.

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Just down this street where the wedding party was, we found the Museum of Naive Art. We decided to visit it. It had a small entrance fee. I found the art works quite charming.

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This one was my favorite.

We continued heading back "down".

As we walked we found pictures to take. I loved this old man playing Beatles tunes.

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We found to our surprise that the street we were on opens up to look out over the city.

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This is the square below, teeming with locals and tourists alike. There was a vegan festival as well as some food and movie festivals happening in the city at the same time we were there. It made for a really nice vibe.

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 Here is a photo of the food and movie festival being held at a park that was close to our hotel.

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The weather was warm, and families enjoyed the nice warm weather. The plane trees reminded me of my grandmother - she had plan trees in her yard outside her bedroom window.

It was a fun time made for ice cream.

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 After yet another nap, we headed out again - to enjoy the city on Saturday night. Crowds of families, groups of teens, as well as college age kids socialized with their friends, and mingled with tourists and out- of-towners. We ended up at the Brew House - Lebanese cooking. We had hookah smokers on either side, but did not find the smell unpleasant. We sat outside and people watched (this became one of our favorite activities as the trip progressed.) I ended up with an off menu dish of the most amazing grilled chicken - garlicky and lemony- just divine.

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 After our second night in Zagreb, our plan was to eat a good breakfast the next morning, check out and then make our way to our next stop - Sarajevo. (Part 2.)

However, Kevin had done some reading about the Jasenovac concentration camp memorial, and he wanted to visit it.

Our GPS and Google Maps on Sally's iPhone together worked very well in getting out of Zagreb and getting to the memorial. The roads are very well signposted. The toll roads make for quick driving. Luckily we were traveling on a Sunday so we did not have to deal with crazy rush hour traffic (it was a good way to become accustomed to driving in a foreign country.)

The memorial is free and open to the public. When we arrived, there were actually quite a few people who had stopped to visit. It was a compelling and moving museum and memorial. We spent quite a bit of time there. I had no idea the role that the Croatian fascist group Ustashe had played in WW2 with their allies, the Nazis. Apparently the Ustashes' particularly savage treatment of their prisoner/victims repelled even the Nazis (hard to think that was possible.) The Ustashe rounded up Serbs, Roma, Jews, Croats and Muslims. Some 82,000 people perished in the Jasenovac camp, the largest of the 20 concentration camps run by the Ustashe. Over 20,000 of the Jasenovac victims were children. The primary target of the Ustashe were the Serb residents of what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. Over 300,000 Serbs were murdered by Ustashe forces in 4 years of genocidal killing 1941-1945.

A monument called the Flower was erected at the location of the former camp in 1966. It symbolizes the indestructibility of human life.

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As WW2 came to an end the Ustashe did whatever they could to cover up their foul deeds. Even today, this memorial is not well funded, or advertised. It's as though this infamous piece of Croatian history is being ignored or overlooked.

The only evidence of the camp that remains are these mounds,

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 the testimony of survivors, and the names of those that fell:- lists of names -in white letters, that glow forever in the darkness.

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The evil committed here, had to be remembered and transformed into the eternal opposition of the good and evil in man, history and nation. In creating this monument Bogdan Bogdanovic, created a monument to the concept of human faith and hope that violence and evil must not and will not happen again. (Adapted from quote from Tea Bencic Rimay, The Genesis of Bogdan Bogdanovic's Flower.)

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It was soon time for us to tear ourselves away, and cross the border of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and head to Sarajevo, via Banja Luka.