Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Traveling Summer Parts 11 and 12: Budva and Kotor, Montenegro

The Montenegrin flag features the double-headed eagle that has been used for many years as a symbol of Montenegro and is on a red background, a colour that has often been found on their military flags.
Our final stops on our Balkan adventure were in Montenegro. We originally decided to go to Budva for a night because there was a direct bus from there to Skopje. However, one night turned into two when we realized the bus only went every other day. Not a big deal. Two days at the end of the trip to enjoy the beach- sounds lovely, right?

Well, let me say, while Montenegro is a beautiful country with lots of coast and mountains, Budva is not so lovely. I take that back, it is a nice town, but for the right kind of person. Mike, Phil and I are not the right people. I admit our judgement was a little clouded by the fact that the 3 hour bus trip from Dubrovnik actually took close to 8 hours, so we arrived late and in the rain. That didn't help. We made our way to our hostel (that was near impossible to find) that had been chosen because Phil liked the name- the Littlest Hobo. Never choose a hostel based on it having a "fun" name. It was the most disgusting place I remember ever staying. The entire house was a hobo that had been living on the streets for awhile. We had booked three beds in a four person room hoping we would be lucky and have it to ourselves. Not the case- we had a Croatian man who had been living there for two months in the room with us. The entire place was filthy (we're thinking they hadn't cleaned in the two months he had been living there). There was moldy food in the fridge, dirt and nail clippings all over the floor, and the bathroom was a whole other story- it probably should have been condemned.

We were starving, so went in search of food and this is when I came up with the perfect description of Budva- it is like a county fair in America, you know, the real rural ones, but replace the American country folk with Russian country folk. The town was set up to be a Balkan Jersey Shore. As I said at the beginning, that might be the prefect place for some people, however, we are not those people. We ate in the rain, then went back home hoping to get a good nights sleep and wake up with a better mindset in the morning. Instead, we woke up feeling dirty and wanting to leave, but we still had 36 hours until our bus out.

We made the most of our time and did a few fun things, including a boat ride around the bay with a local and a microbrew at the Chinese restaurant. I only took pictures on our boat ride as nothing else seemed photo worthy.
View from Old Town
Our captain took us around a few of the caves in the bay.  
The entrance to a cave.
Inside one of the caves.
We realized after day 1 in Budva that we couldn't spend another day there, so we hopped on a bus and went back up the coast about 30 minutes to the town of Kotor. We are Kotor people. The Old Town there was lovely (much more similar to the other Old Towns we had been in). We spent the day wandering around and eating good food before heading back to Budva to catch our 9:30pm bus back to Skopje. While we were sick of being on buses, spending the day in Kotor left us with a much better impression of Montenegro.
Walking towards the entrance of the Old Town.
Looking into the bay.
Inside Old Town- this was our view while we ate lunch.
View of the Bay of Kotor from the old fortress.
Part of the fortress walls.
Upon our return to Budva, we had a few hours to kill before the bus, so we wandered to the grocery store, ate some dinner, and went back to the hostel to collect our belongings- hoping they hadn't been eaten by bugs or sold to pay the electricity bill. Our bus was long and filled with lots of loud Macedonian teens and twenty-somethings who thoroughly enjoyed making fun of the fact we spoke English. Our arrival in Skopje was much appreciated as we were that much closer to home!

The entire trip was a lot of fun, but it was long and it felt good to be home....for a few days!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Traveling Summer Parts 9 & 10: Sarajevo and Mostar, Bosnia

The points of the triangle stand for the three ethnic groups in Bosnia: Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs. The white stars represent Europe and they are infinite in number (hence the two on the ends not being full stars).

Bosnia was, without a doubt, my favourite country of the trip I think. It is hard to top Sarajevo. While everywhere was filled with history, there is something about the recent history of Sarajevo that is so appealing. I remember reading a book about a girl during the siege, Zlata's Diary when I was younger and have always been curious about Sarajevo since then (clearly I was an impressionable child as I joined Peace Corps because my 4th grade classroom was part of Worldwise Schools).

We arrived in Sarajevo after a 6 hour bus ride where their was no AC (in fact I think the heat was actually on) and a loud Bosnian teenager complaining about Americans in front of us (apparently we have "raped the British language and should be punished for our crime"). It was a long ride...

Our time in Sarajevo was spent mostly learning about the siege, something quite fascinating. I barely remember it as I was so young when it was going on, but since finding out I was going to be in Macedonia for two years, I wanted to learn more and that we did! Sarajevo is one of my favourite cities. It is full of so much history, mixing of cultures, and just has this magic to it.

We went on our standard free walking tour that was lead by a guy in his late twenties/early thirties who remembers the war and what it was like. On the tour we saw many remnants of the war still visible today.
World War II Memorial
The Eternal Flame
The writing on the memorial- done in the Slavic Tri-colors
One of Sarajevo's Roses- after the war, the mortar shell holes were filled in with red to be a reminder of the war.
Plaque memorializing those who died at this spot.
The market where the bloody Markale Massacres took place on February 5, 1994 and August 28, 1995, killing 108 people and wounding over 200 people.
The market is still used today as the city's main market.
A memorial dedicated to those who died in the market.
Hole left by a mortar shell in the market.
There are still buildings like these all over Sarajevo- damaged from the siege.
Church just off the main square.
Another mortar shell hole- this one left unfilled so it can be seen.
A famous sight in Sarajevo- the giant chess board, where we were told you can find old men at all hours of the day and night.
The Latin Bridge where many thing Franz Ferdinand was killed.
He was actually killed here, however.
Inside the mosque courtyard.
The main government building.
One of the many cemeteries in Sarajevo.
On our second full day in Sarajevo, we decided we wanted to learn more about the war and go explore the Tunnel Museum. The museum is a bit hard to get out to on your own (mostly because the entrance is someone's backyard), so we opted to find a tour that would take us out there and explain to us a bit more about the war. Our tour guide was a soldier during the war. He took us not only to the Tunnel Museum, but up into the mountains so we could see what land was occupied by Serbian forces and what was held by the Bosniaks. This was definitely one of the best tours of the trip.
This is the house that people originally entered the tunnel through.
The house the tunnel most recently was entered through.
Inside the tunnel- you can walk through a very small section of it today, but it is enough to know you don't want to walk through any more. The entrance here was one of the tallest points of the tunnel and I was hunched over a lot.
Entrance to the tunnel.
Our guide showing us some of the weaponry that was used during the war.
This was a typical Bosniak soldier uniform- jeans and canvas shoes.
View of Sarajevo from up on a mountain that was controlled by the Serbians.
An old building that was taken over by Serbian forces.
Inside the building.
We got to walk along the 1984 Olympic Bobsled track that was used as a trench by the Serbians.
About 100 meters before this point (off the track) is where we ran into two teenagers engaging in some very unsafe sex- the area off the bobsled track is still filled with active landmines. Our guide told us not to set foot off the track for any reason.
Walking on the track was one of my favourite parts of the trip.
One of the holes the Serbs made in the track to shoot down into the city through.
Sadly, this is what happens to old Olympic Bobsled tracks in war torn countries.
Sarajevska Brewery
From Sarajevo, we headed down to Mostar for the day. Mostar is known for its bridge and that bridge causes thousands of tourists to flock there each year. We figured since we were in the area, we should join the crowd. The hotel we stayed at was way out in the middle of nowhere, however, it had the nicest owner ever!
When you leave the bus station, this is your view. No complaints here!
Just like in Plitvice, the water is this amazing blue-green colour.
Old building we passed while walking to Old Town.
First view of the bridge (partially hidden).
The view from on the bridge.

It really is a pretty bridge and pretty little old town.
View from the other side of the bridge.
Another picture from the top of the bridge.
There is another, smaller version, of the bridge just around the corner. This one is called Crooked Bridge.
Would I go back to Bosnia? Without a doubt, YES!