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Bosnia Herzegovina and Montenegro

BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA | Tuesday, 5 July 2011 | Views [267]

After a day of rest in Dubrovnik we caught the bus up to Mostar in Bosnia Herzegovina (BiH).  The border between Croatia and BiH is a little complicated, after the war BiH were granted a small stretch of coast, only a few kilometres long, in the middle of the Croatian coast.  So to get up to Mostar we crossed the borders three times.  I was hoping that this would result in lots of stamps in my passport.... but no, we got no stamps at all.  In fact the border crossing between the two countries was pretty lax, sometimes they only looked at the cover of our passports and decided that we didn’t look dodgy enough and carried on. 

Mostar is famous for its bridge and old town, much of which was destroyed during the war in the 1990’s.  The city was under siege for a few years during the war, with the Serbians on one side, the Croats on the other and the Bosnians caught in the middle. While there are still of lot of damaged buildings in Mostar the bridge and the old town have been reconstructed with international assistance.  We spent an afternoon exploring the old town, eating yummy food, and crossing back and forth over the bridge (which is surprisingly difficult to walk across). 

The next day we joined a day tour run by our hostel, so us, two lovely French girls and the owner of the hostel all piled into a tiny little car to explore the surrounding area.  Our first stop was for brunch, freshly made Bosnian pie.  Filling (meat, spinach and cheese, potato or cheese) is rolled up in thin pastry to form a long sausage.  The” sausage” of pastry and filling is then coiled around into a big disc, cooked, then pie wedges are cut out and served.  It was very tasty and a very cheap street snack which had multiple times during our travels in Bosnia and Montenegro.  Next we headed to the village of Blagaj, site of a 15th century Dervish Monastery and the start of the Buna River.  The river gushes out of a large cave in the limestone, 20 cumecs a substantial amount of water, it impressed me.  From there we drove through a few villages, fed some donkeys, and on to our lunch time swim stop, Kravice Waterfalls. While the water was a little cold it was a pretty scenic place, check out the photos.  Our last stop of the day was Pocitelj, a small village nestled in a steep rocky amphitheatre. Extensively damaged during the war the village has now been rebuilt. We arrived late in the day after all the other tourists had gone and spent about an hour exploring steep narrow streets and town walls.  It was a really neat little town and definitely the highlight of our day trip.

The next day we caught an early train to Sarajevo. The train trip was very scenic, passing by several lakes and winding its way up into the mountains.  We try to take the train wherever possible as I get bad motion sickness in buses (we had a few horror bus trips in South America) and Chris just likes trains.  Unfortunately the train options are fairly limited in this part of Europe.  Sarajevo is an interesting city architecturally, it has been built in three main stages.  The central city is divided into two main parts, the older Ottoman part with narrow lanes, bazaars, mosques and lots of small cafes and restaurants , and the newer Austro-Hungarian part with grand buildings and wide streets.  Out in the suburbs ugly communist era concrete blocks dominate the landscape.  We spent our first afternoon eating more yummy food from the ottoman part of town and doing another free walking tour. 

Our second day in Sarajevo we joined a day tour covering sights around the city.  Sarajevo is most famous for three main events: the assassination of Franz Ferdinand (which kicked off the first world war), the 1984 winter Olympics (the best run winter Olympics at that time, still a great source of pride to Bosnians) and the 1990’s war where the city was under siege for a few years.  During the war the city was surrounded with Serbian forces on all sides apart from the airport which was controlled by the UN.  Not getting enough relief supplies from the UN, the Bosnians decided to dig a tunnel under the airport which connected the city with free Bosnian lands to the west.  The tunnel was kept a secret during the war and used to transport weapons and food, even livestock.  During the winters the tunnel could have quite a bit of water in it which could make it pretty dodgy crossing as electricity and phone lines were also in the tunnel.  Only 25 m of the 800 m tunnel remains which you can visit at the tunnel museum on the outskirts of the city.   We also visited the old bob sled track from the Olympics (used by the Serbian forces to fire from), old Olympic stadium, and a traditional bosian otterman house (from the 18th century).  Sarajevo is surrounded by mountains and gets pretty cold in the winter, unfortunately the options for hiking and skiing are pretty limited due to all the landmines left over after the war.

I found Bosnia & Herzgovina an interesting place, mainly due to its mix of cultures and people (that had been getting along fine until the recent war) as well as its beautiful scenery and towns.  However the country has quite a few problems, unemployment is high and apart from the international aid to fix up the unesco sites not much else seems to be getting done. We hated seeing all the rubbish in the lakes and rivers, in Mostar all the rubbish bins were overflowing and council didn’t seem to get round to emptying them often.  When the peace agreement was signed to end the war it resulted in a pretty strange governing system.  The presidency is shared between three presidents, one Bosnian, one of Croat descent one of Serbian descent.  The presidency is rotated every eight months....not really enough time to get anything done.  The people we talked to complained that the government didn’t really achieve much....apart from collecting their fat paychecks while the rest of the country struggles.  It seems that this electoral system needs to change for the country to start moving forward. 

From Sarajevo we took a windy bus journey through the mountains to Montenegro.  Montenegro is one of the worlds newest countries only separating from Serbia in 2004.  The country is pretty small but packs a lot in (mountains, spectacular river gorges, lakes, and a pretty nice coast line).  We decided to base ourselves in Budva , approximately half way down the coast, and do day trips from there.  After a few busy days in Bosnia we decided to take it easy on our first day there...bit of swimming and checking out the old town.  We also caught up with our friend Steve who we met on the Croatia sailing trip, he had been travelling south from Croatia and decided to join us the next day as we planned to hire a car.

From Budva we drove south along the coast, checking out Sveti Stefan (a very flash resort just off the coast) and Stari Bar.  Stari Bar is the ruins of the old town of Bar, destroyed in an earthquake in the 1970s (although, if the information boards are anything to go by, they seemed to be very good at destroying parts of this town by being careless with explosives before the earthquake finished it off). We spent a bit of time wandering around the ruins and then hopped back in the car and got lost looking for a 2,000 year old olive tree which we eventually found.  From Stari Bar we headed down the coast a bit further then tried to take a short cut inland to Lake Skadar.  Well the short cut ended up being a long one as we got lost on very narrow windy roads not shown on our map.  But we eventually made it and were rewarded with a great view of the lake and over the border to Albania. Lake Skadar is the largest lake in Balkans, two thirds of it is in Montenegro the rest in Albania.  The lake is flanked by mountains on the western side and it made for a scenic drive.  We passed through several small towns, bought wine off the side of the road and had lunch in a town overrun by feral donkeys.  A good day all in all.

The next day Chris and I headed north from Budva checking out Cetinje (the old royal capital of Montenegro) and up into the Lovcen National Park.  We drove all the way to the top of Mt Lovcen (around 1,600 m above sea level...our poor rental car was getting a hammering) and checked out the communist style mausoleum to a famous Montenegrin poet.  We mainly went for the views though and unfortunately for us the cloud was down low so we couldn’t see much of the surrounding mountains and the Bay of Kotor.  From the top of the mountain we drove all the way back down to sea level via plenty of hairpin corners to Kotor.  The weather seemed to be against us this day with a heavy rain shower on our arrival.  This made checking out the old town a bit tricky for Chris in his super slippery jandals (he almost fell over several times and had to hold my arm for support).  With more rain showers on the way we decided to give up and head back to Budva.  Chris did manage to buy some new jandals the next day in Ulcinj on our way to Albania.

 

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