I’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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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