The Balkans is not a region of the world that I ever really saw myself visiting, so when I went to book myself in to a tour of Eastern Europe with the idea of exploring Prague, Budapest and Austria I was a bit stuck when I found out that it was booked out. Instead I was offered a trip commencing from Croatia, which fit the bill, but not the idea I had in my mind about the trip I would be embarking on.
The more I thought about it, the more I warmed to the idea of visiting countries that are a little more off the beaten track than the cities I originally had in mind. Here are the Balkans region countries I visited and what I thought of them.
It almost seemed like cheating only having to spend 2 hours and 15 minutes on the plane to get here. As I arrived, we flew over the iconic city of Dubrovnik and I witnessed the beautiful islands that Croatia is famous for.
I was unable to check in when I arrived, so I tooka advantage of the time I had and set out to explore. The old city that Dubrovnik is famous for is extremely beautiful and full of nice restaurants and interesting shops. I opted to explore for a bit, before stopping for a light lunch and then taking a boat ride around the coast.
The Croatian coastline is quite mountainous, and there is a cable car that you can ride to full appreciate the views. I headed up around 8pm at night which turned out to be perfect timing as I got to witness the coastline in full light, twilight and then darkness. It was truly spectacular and convinced me to come back and sail around the islands one day.
Whilst Dubrovnik is beautiful, I wasn't sure I'd be able to occupy myself for a whole extra day, so I opted for a side trip to Montenegro. The border crossing is extremely time consuming, so we headed off early towards the city of Budva.
Montenegro remained fairly untouched during the war, so the cities and buildings are still in good condition. Named after its imposing mountains that used to be covered in masses of black trees, the landscape is very dramatic and beautiful. We took a coastal road, visiting a bigger city called Kotor next.
Kotor is by the beach and is a hot spot for tourists. I passed a bar that was clearly designed for rich Russian tourists where a 'beach set' (aka 2 lounges and an umbrella) was 20 Euros to hire. Considering the beach was nothing more than a scrap of sand by the water this seemed pretty steep! An average Montenegran only earns around 400 Euros a month!
We took a ferry short cut on the way home, and thanks to the driver knowing the guards at a smaller border crossing, we pretty much drove right through and back onto Croatian soil.
Bosnia and Herzigovina
I was surprised how beautiful the Bosnian country side is. The mountains are huge and covered with pine and other native trees. They soar above turquoise blue rivers that cut their way through the mountain ranges. The landscape was punctuated with farms, and large haystacks reminiscent of a farm in a fairy tale featured in most people's front yards.
As we drew into Sarajevo, we drove down 'sniper alley' which is where a lot of the fighting during the war took place. Bullet holes were still visible in buildings and the road had a soviet feel to it.
The main town of Sarajevo is quite small and at its centre is an old town market place where you can buy traditional wares and eat local food. The fruit is very good in this part of the world and I thoroughly enjoyed a punnet of raspberries! I'm not sure if I am keen on larger Bosnian dishes and picked at my dinner of meat in some sort of tomato and sour cream sauce.
When our guide told us we were visiting a place called Srebenica I didn't really know what we were in for. It turns out, it is a memorial to all of the Bosnian's killed in the genocide of 1995. Our local guide had lost a twin brother and his father in the massacre and had a friend who was one of only 10 known people to have survived the firing squad. It was extremely emotional to hear all of the personal stories and learn of the methodical and dedicated way that the authorities are continuing to search for remains and complete skeletons using DNA.
Relative to Bosnia, Serbia is a much wealthier country. The city centre is far more modern and cosmopolitan. Where the Bosnian's had rickety old trams and trolley cars, the infrastructure in Serbia was much newer and more organised. After exploring the town, I had a delicious dinner of cevapi (skinless sausages).
The Balkans have been an eye opening and worthwhile place to visit. All of the countries I went to were unique and special in their own way and helped me to understand how such a group of diverse people struggled to function as one country when they were united as Yugoslavia.
The round up
In The Balkans I: Changed currencies more times that I can count, spent ages at Serbian border crossings, ate cevapi, explored Kings Landing I mean Dubrovnik, enjoyed the sunshine, went on a harbour cruise, visited Srebenica, loved the Balkans.
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