CardMatch™


Touring Ex-Yugoslavia (July Travels)

Kotor MontenegroI’m pretty excited about the Balkans right now and the ex-Yugoslavia countries, so much so that I decided to split the July post into two, July Expenses, and this one, July Travels.

Seriously, I love the Balkans, and I love love love Bosnia and Herzegovina. Right now I’m thinking about how I can possibly convince my friends to do a road trip and camping trip next July across Bosnia, Montenegro, and Albania.

July was mostly in ex-Yugoslavia, which is the part I’ll focus on entirely (I’ve been to Budapest many times before and written about it already). Apart from Croatia’s coast and parts of Montenegro’s coast, it has very few tourists (relative to the western and central Europe). Truly a lesser known gem of Europe.

Montenegro

We flew into Dubrovnik and immediately rented a car and headed to Montenegro.

Montenegro was fascinating because Kotor is a little touristy (cruise ships stop there) and yet there are just abandoned hotels all around. And the country is beautiful but outside of the coast it was completely empty. I mean the drive inland and then across to Bosnia and Herzegovina was mind blowing. Weird lakes and formations and zero people.

Slansko Lake

When I say zero people, I’m not trying to exaggerate and it’s not a local hotspot and apparently no tourists… just zero people. And when you look around the lake there are old abandoned buildings all along its coast. If I had a kayak it would have been so much fun to explore, and yet, also it would be super eerie. Alone in a canyon, paddling across a lake where the only buildings on the shores are fallen apart. It’s just weird.

In some ways I wish it was a tourist spot, then I could have rented a boat or something.

 

Another place earlier on that actually had boat tours was “Nacionalni park Skadarsko Jezero”, which is on the road from the coast to the capital of Montenegro, Podgorica. Beautiful. A weird set of rock formations that remind me of a less extreme Yangshou, China.

Nacionalni park Skadarsko Jezero

Yet, as beautiful as it was, I couldn’t find a single place to pull of and get a picture that wasn’t obstructed by a raised railroad track. Again, beautiful places without infrastructure to enjoy it at all.

So I want to show a picture but it isn’t mine (it’s from PanaComp (whatever that is)).

 

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Trebinje Bosnia

The best part was the border between Montenegro and Bosnia on the road to Trebinje. I have a few things to say about it.

Wow and wow.

Unfortunately we had wasted so much time earlier that we rushed on to make sure we did less driving at night.

Crossing into Bosnia was like crossing into some kind of dream land. Cliffs, abandoned towns, rivers… and sometimes abandoned houses in the rivers. A strange mix of beautiful and abandoned. For the first time in my travels I felt like an explorer (although I hadn’t discovered anything and I’m hardly the first tourist to have been in any of these places).

 

Trebinje

We arrived at our random town of Trebinje which the border guard said was a “nice” town. (Btw, we stopped at a hotel and it was 40 Euros and the room was nicer than some InterContinentals I’ve been too. Great deal.)

The next day we explored town and it was a cool place with an old town and old wall around the old town… like everywhere in Europe. But outside of the old town there wasn’t a single tourist. Apparently the town is a stop for some tour buses on the way back to Croatia, and so you’ll see very few in the morning and only in the center like I said.

On a walk to see the old Ottoman bridge in town we had strangers ask us where we were from, and due to the language barrier, the conversation ended there, with a smile and a nod. Rarely am I someplace that is both beautiful and untouched enough that people walk up to you curious to see a foreigner.

 

Mostar

mostar

Mostar is famous for their iconic bridge. It at least has tourists, and goofy things like guys who go around collecting money to jump off the bridge, but it’s still not very touristy. It’s just a small downtown.

But one interesting aspect, in the way a war museum is interesting, is that the town was completely destroyed during the wars. This isn’t an ancient war either, this is the mid-90s. While that’s true all over ex-Yugoslovia, it’s particularly in ruins in Bosnia. Destroyed and abandoned buildings are everywhere, even downtown in beautiful Mostar.

mostar bosnia

blagaj bosnia

The country is filled with untouched nature, pristine rivers run through every town, and there is an interesting culture that is one of diversity.

A country where the east meets west. Taken over both by the Roman and Ottoman empires, the country has strong Turkish and European influences. The religion amongst locals is split and the architecture has the same mix as the people.

I love this country.

 

Croatia?

Croatia coast

Clearly Croatia is a beautiful country, but it wasn’t what I was interested in visiting. Also, from a blogging perspective, I try to write things I don’t see written about, not trying to put my spin on the same exact thing everyone else is writing about.

The coast of Croatia also breaks my “100 tourists to 1 local” rule, but it’s beautiful enough that we took the slow going coastal road up much of the Dalmatian coast.

It’s beautiful everywhere south of Split. Also, the Istria area, like Rovinj is cool and Italian looking. Just not my personal preference of travel. I’m not used to swimming in cold water either. :-p

All that to say, if you’re looking for the best beaches of Croatia or whatever, I’m the last person to ask.

Plitvice Lakes

 

Slovenia

bled Slovenia

We already went to Slovenia in the winter but returning in the summer was better. Swimming in lake Bled, it was surprisingly warm. Just. Perfect.

The highlights for me are Bled and Bohinj.

bohinj Slovenia

 

Belgrade, Serbia

As I said in the expenses post, we barely left the hotel because we were working, so I’m less qualified to speak on it than I am Croatia.

Two things come to mind as worth mentioning though.

First, the country isn’t as wealthy as I expected. Traveling in Bosnia you know that they are the middle of a war between the Serbs and the Croats. You learn quite a bit about it. However, I just assumed that their economy was similar to Croatia’s. I guess I’m young enough to forget that within the last couple decades they were bombed by NATO. One lady told me her story about rushing into Belgrade to pick up her kids from school and she said very solemnly that no one believed her that they were actually going to do it. In 1999, NATO wouldn’t bomb a city of civilians. Right?

Anyways. It’s not Germany.

Second, the city is very very happening. There are more clubs than you can imagine. Not to disappoint anyone, but I’m much too boring to visit such a thing. I wouldn’t know what to do at such a place. I imagine electronic music synchronizes a bobbing huddle that resembles the penguin scene in Planet Earth.

As much as that doesn’t appeal to me, I’m curious what could be so happening that everyone who finds out you were in Belgrade assumes you were clubbing. “Me? No, no. I was working in the lounge 14 hours a day, but thanks for assuming I’m hip in any way.”

 

Conclusion

Predjama Castle, Slovenia

Predjama Castle, Slovenia

The story ends in Bulgaria, but I’ll save that for next month and leave this post focused on ex-Yugoslavia.

Important detail- the car rentals in Croatia do not allow you to go to Albania or Macedonia with their car. So my plan was to visit all the ex-Yugoslavia countries but due to my rental car, found out I couldn’t… oddly enough.

Although, had I not told Stefan (from Rapid Travel Chai) my plans via email, and had he not questioned me on whether I’m allowed, I woulda rolled up to the Albanian border in order to find out that I’m not allowed to take my car inside. Ultimately he saved me a lot of time and I decided to tack on the extra time to see Slovenia again.

Thanks for reading. I’ll leave you with a couple more photos I didn’t get to use. :-p

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

 

Sveti Stefan, Montenegro

Sveti Stefan, Montenegro

 

bohinj

Bohinj, Slovenia

 

 

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

15 Comments

  1. Great photos and travelogue! I often find myself using your blog articles about your travels as a jumping off point to explore more online, as I make plans for journeying to new destinations so that I can reach my goal of joining the Traveler’s Century Club.

    Reply
    • Hope to see you in the club too! Although I won’t really pay membership dues, but I hope to be in the 100+. :-p

      Thanks much for reading and commenting. Always encouraging to hear that it’s been at all helpful for people.

      Reply
    • Thank you for your comment about Bosnia. I am from Sarajevo/ Bosnia and love to hear so good feedback as yours. Hope you will enjoy even more next time. <3

      Reply
  2. I really enjoyed this. Thanks for sharing. I have an opportunity to take 1 month off work next summer so we are in the process of determining where to go. We have never been to Europe so it is very difficult to make a decision and narrow down the destinations because we want to go everywhere! We are leaning towards Austria-Southern Germany-Switz-Northern Italy or Slovenia-Croatia-Montenegro-Bosnia and Herzegovina. Your post have been the inspiration for both these itineraries. I’m sure people would be shocked that we aren’t planning on the main tourist attractions for our first trip to Europe (Paris-London-Rome). And I’m sure those are lovely cities but we enjoy nature and small villages way more than big cities and museums so it seems right for us. Any recommendations between the two for first time travelers to Europe?

    Reply
    • First, big thanks for reading and commenting.

      Second, both are good choices.
      If you’re asking me which you should do I’m terrible at telling people which is better, because it’s just sooo subjective and everyone is so different.

      I read the comment to Carrie, and she said, “is budget a concern?”… so that’s a really valid thing to emphasize. Switzerland is one of the more expensive places I’ve been. The others are normal for Europe. Ex-Yugoslavia can be super cheap depending on the area.

      For me the alps are more scenic, especially in Austria and Switzerland, and Bosnia’s culture is more interesting. Interestingly enough, Switzerland’s tourism board is pushing small towns like none other. Definitely a more touristy version though, but neither sound like a big city tour.

      I hate to be so wishy washy but it’s a tough comparison. I tend to be more in favor of the less touristy things but 1) I know most people would like the alps more. and 2) I can’t imagine anything more touristy than the coast of Croatia.

      Like I said, I know the alps is the safer recommendation. It’s really a matter of how much you’d enjoy the coast of Croatia/Montenegro and random small towns in Bosnia. I wish I spent more time in small towns in Bosnia and Montenegro so I could recommend more there.

      I guess I should clarify, is that what you’re asking? Like which one you should do? Or like route ideas?

      Reply
    • Hi Drew,

      Thanks so much for your response! I’m not really asking which one you think I should do because that would be impossible for you and I realize that. I guess I was just wanting your knowledge on any thoughts between the two which I think you answered.

      The first itinerary started with your “Best cities in the world” post last year (Vienna, Salzburg, Venice and Rome) and your post about the IC Berchtesgaden (which I know is no longer part of IC). Plus, my husband loves the mountains so that’s why the Alps where at the top of the list.

      Croatia/Slovenia have always been the runner-up but then you started posting about Bosnia and after more research, it really became more difficult to decide. Too much to see and not enough vacation time!

      Thanks! And I love your blog.

      Reply
    • Yea, western Austria is baller too. Innsbruck is like if Salzburg was actually in the mountains. I’ve never been to Gimmelwald but it and many towns around looks amazing.
      Tough thing with planning a trip to Bosnia, Montenegro, or Albania is that there is just so many less tourists taking pictures, which means there are less results to show on google. I’m guessing they all have good tourism websites though.

      Let me know what you do.

      Reply
  3. What a shame man, you went to one of the best cities in the Balkans Belgrade and you worked the whole time, Belgrade is an amazing city. In your place I would have worked a week straight and then explored uninterrupted from work.

    Getting rentals into Albania and Macedonia is not allowed because of the situation there. Your car may get stolen and then driven in the country without any legal hurdles. You should have taken a bus though, there are plently. And Macedonia and Albania are NOT to be missed – Panteleimon, Kokino, Ohrid, Mavrovo, Skopje, Korab, Popova Shapka, Rozafa Castle, Dajt, Butrint, Gjirocaster, the list is endless.
    If you think Bosnia was deserted you should drive into those two countries and then compare. Even cheaper and 100% better than Bosnia/Serbia/Croatia.
    I am not Bulgarian but have been there and it is pretty similar to Mac/Alb. Amazing countryside, amazing seaside with amazing resorts. Everything that you want to do is found there…

    Reply
    • Thanks for the tips for Macedonia and Albania. I will not miss them, as I said, I just booked a car then realized I can’t go.

      I actually planned 12 nights there but ended up needing even more time for work. I wish I had more time this month…

      Reply
    • Agree with the recommendation for Macedonia, especially the Lake Ohrid area. One of the neat aspects of visiting an off-the-main-track place is finding something that makes it unique – art, architecture, cuisine, whatever, and taking some time to explore it. The Ohrid area is filled with old Orthodox Churches. Walk into almost any one and find incredible collections of centuries old icons. Yes the initial reaction to that suggestion is icons = boring, but if you give them a chance they are quite fascinating, and world class.

      Nearby Kosovo is also interesting. We had some wild experiences there shortly after Yugoslavia broke up. We didn’t know the hotels had been closed to keep the tourists out (pre – Trip Advisor) but the locals were absolutely delighted to meet Americans and invite us to their homes many years before the advent of the term couch surfing.

      Reply
  4. I’d totally be down for a Balkans road trip next summer:
    1. If it was in August so we could go to Guca music festival http://www.guca.rs
    There’s a crazy documentary or two out there, try “Guca” or “Brasslands” if you want your minds/ears blown
    2. As long as I’ve finished the Appalachian Trail, which I hope to travel hack

    Reply
  5. “I imagine electronic music synchronizes a bobbing huddle that resembles the penguin scene in Planet Earth.”

    Best. Line. Ever.

    Reply
  6. Drew and Carrie – next time, since you love nature and not so many people – consider checking out Tara National Park (Serbia) and continuing to relatively close Durmitor National Park (Montenegro). Visit Visegrad on the way over. Worth your time.

    I also agree with Mr. Vidic above, great suggestions – I would very much like to explore them myself.

    @NV zaista odlicne sugestije

    Reply
  7. I find your take on places so helpful. Very similar travelling outlook. Sadly, my bucket list always gets longer after reading your travelogues.

    Reply
  8. Excellent post. My wife and I backpacked 60 days in Ex-Yugo. Hostels, couchsurfing, camping, a few B&Bs. We really immersed ourselves in the culture and it was the most unique experience ever. Everything was sensational. I’m glad you enjoyed it, looks like you missed Sarajevo and the Bosnian Winter Olympics stadium. Something for next year.

    The floating night clubs in Belgrade on the river looked amazing.

    Its all good.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

We have spent the majority of our marriage traveling full time, living out of hotels.   All the while, we list our expenses publicly, budgeting $25,000 a year for our nomadic life while still staying in mostly 4 or 5 star hotels across ~20 countries a year.
Go to About Me to learn more.
CardMatch™
SIGN UP: RSS

SIGN UP: NEWSLETTER