A Travellerspoint blog

Croatia and Slovenia

A new name?

sunny 10 °C

The overnight train to Zagreb was uneventful, though not particularly restful. We hadn’t really intended on spending any time in Zagreb but found enough things to keep us occupied for a day or two, including the King of Carnival exhibition at the Ethnographic Museum and a stroll through some of Zagreb’s many parks. We seemed also to spend a lot of time looking for things that don’t actually exist, or are so well hidden they may as well not exist (namely Zagreb’s Sports museum). Temperatures were warmer, but not warm enough for us to need to put things in the fridge rather than hang them from the window grates outside.

The train trip from Zagreb to Ljubljana in Slovenia was very scenic and the border crossing uneventful asides from Bec being assigned a new pronunciation of her name; Rebechecha Yentra (apparently double hard c’s and j’s defy Slovenian language capabilities). Ljubljana is a gorgeous city with a relaxed vibe. The city market provides good food and good views, as does the town square and we spent quite a few hours eating Burek (cheese or meat rolled in filo pastry and formed into a pizza shape) and people watching below the main monument.

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Pretty Ljubljana town

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A local woman sells her wares in Ljubljana

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Burek-fast, Slovenian style

Never able to pass up a funicular, we rode it to the castle on the hill above Ljubljana. Possibly the best description of the castle could be found in the castle’s visitors book as ‘This castle is not very castle-like’.

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'This castle is not very castle-like'

We like to listen to languages (without having to participate ineptly in conversations) and the local puppet theatre had a show on so we went and watched Supramiska (SuperMouse, or so we thought) with about 50 sub-seven year-olds and their parents. Initially we felt a bit dodgy on account of being childless but we soon got over it and enjoyed the very basic 45 minute performance of which we understood absolutely nothing. The following day as we walked past the theatre we saw a sign out the front that translated Supramiska to mean Skip Mouse, not Super Mouse. Turns out we watched a show about a dumpster rat.

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Dumpster mouse

It was impossible for Glenn to be in Ljubljana and not try the horseburger.

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Horseburgers

Lake Bled is about an hour away from Ljubljana by bus and we took a day trip there and circumnavigated the 6km around the partially frozen lake. Virtually a ghost town in winter, it’s easy to see how it’s a tourist magnet in summer.

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Lake Bled

From Ljubljana we took an overnight train to Zurich for our onward flight to Shanghai........

Posted by TDL 22:46 Archived in Slovenia Comments (0)

Bosnia and Herzegovina

'Tram scam, thank-you ma'am'

snow -4 °C

From Mostar, we took a very beautiful train journey full of tunnels and switchbacks north to Sarajevo. After arriving at Sarajevo’s train station, we legged it to the tram line to get into town. Sarajevan tram scams are well documented and we’d have been a bit miffed if we weren’t exposed to one while we were there. We weren’t disappointed, though. No one at the tram stop seemed too keen on selling us a ticket and neither did the tram driver who waved us onto the tram and motioned for us to sit down as we tried to hand him money. Lo and behold, at the next stop a pair of ‘conductors’ get on the tram and demand our tickets. Unable to produce tickets, we were promptly turfed off the tram and ordered to pay 26 Bosnian convertible mark each ($26AUD). While the ‘conductors’ faked attempts to ring the police over our refusal to pay, our British friend from Mostar used his most persuasive and baffling English in the hope that they’d give up. Undeterred, the ‘conductors’ continued to pretend to call the police, at which point we decided that the best course of action was to take them with us to a police station, wait for an available police officer, wait for an English translator and hopefully waste enough of their time that they’d give up. None too keen on going to the police station or producing their ‘conductors’ identification, our ‘conductors’ backed off and we walked off. According to our hostel owner, what usually happens is that a bunch of tourists will get on a tram and the driver will refuse their money or motion for them to sit down. The driver will then ring his mates, the ‘conductors’, who then get on the tram at the next stop and inspect tickets. The driver then takes a cut out of any ‘fine’ that might be paid.

Though feeling slightly annoyed at then having to carry our bags all the way into town, we were pacified somewhat to find we’d been chucked off the tram in front of the Sarajevo Holiday Inn (home to the world’s journalists during the war) which we wouldn’t have noticed had we been on the tram.

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Home to the world's journo's during the war

Sarajevo is a lovely city full of market stalls selling all manner of things from cotton to copper, lovely parks and rehabilitated buildings. War damage is still apparent in Sarajevo, though less so than Mostar. The city dwellers are very modern and the parks are full of men playing chess on giant chess boards on the ground.

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Outdoor chess, snow and all

Possibly the biggest danger we faced in Sarajevo was death by falling icicle. Temperatures were consistently sub-zero and dumps of snow and huge chunks of ice were falling with massive thuds from the roofs of buildings.

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Icicles cling to roof gutterings

Again, several new cemeteries have arisen throughout town and it’s desperately sad to read the headstones of so many young people.

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Flowers punctuate the somber white expanses of Sarajevo's cemeteries, while cranes in the background continue the clean up effort

Sarajevo has some interesting museums, among them a dedication to the 1984 Winter Olympics and a museum of BiH history located at the spot from which Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, subsequently sparking the start of World War 1.

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Site of the death of Franz Ferdinand

Bosnian food suits us well and cevapcici (little spicy sausages served with pita bread, onion and yoghurt) became a favourite very quickly. Likewise, the beer didn’t disappoint.

Leaving Bosnia and Herzegovina, we took the overnight train to Zagreb in Croatia.

Posted by TDL 19:51 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Comments (0)

Bosnia and Herzegovina

The road less travelled........

sunny 5 °C

After being delayed in Dubrovnik a day or two on account of all the snow, we finally managed to set off for Mostar, in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Going to BiH (as abbreviated by the locals) is one part of the trip we’d both really been looking forward to, Glenn to see the bridge in Mostar and Bec to just get a general feel for the country itself. Given that pretty much all we know of BiH is war-related, we were pretty keen to see what else it had to offer.

We arrived by bus into Mostar mid-morning and, together with a British guy we met on the bus, took ourselves on a walking tour of the town. War damage is everywhere. Bullet-scarred and burned out buildings are the norm rather than the exception and although many of the shopfronts have been repaired, the upper floors the buildings remain largely derelict. Churches and office blocks loom abandoned.

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A church and an office block await rehabilitation

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War damaged buildings and houses are common

We were warned by well-meaning locals not to stray off well-worn paths for fear of landmines and many of the crumbling buildings sport warning signs. The locals capitalise on the sheer number of spent bullets and shell cartridges by turning them into elaborate pens and vases and selling them to tourists.

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Mostar market stalls

Several new cemeteries can be found around town and it is very, very sad to read the headstones of so many young people all with the same date of death. (A bit by Bec: Initially I found it to be very overwhelming and very confronting, almost to the point of dizziness. I found it very difficult to look at all the destroyed and damaged buildings and not let my mind imagine the type of horror experienced by the townspeople. I found myself looking at women my age in the street and thinking that at 15 years old, when I was fighting with my mum about going to the Bundaberg show , these women were most likely experiencing sheer and absolute terror like we’ll never know. I’d also look at people in the street and wonder how many loved-ones they’d lost through the fighting and wonder how they can now go about their daily lives.)

The people of Mostar appear to be getting on with their daily lives and the reconstruction effort is continual. The Mostar bridge (destroyed during the war) was reconstructed and reopened in 2004 and dotted around town are signs that read ‘Don’t Forget’. Mostar has a beautiful and vibrant old town and is a magnet for summer tourists. We spent three days wandering the streets of the old town and exploring (carefully, on well-trodden paths) the area.

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Mostar's bridge

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Signs like this one urge people not to forget and are found throughout the old town

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Business as usual

Posted by TDL 19:22 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Comments (2)

Croatia

aka Snow-atia

snow

Facing our earliest start yet, we dragged ourselves out of bed at 4am in order to catch the 5:25am bus to Dubrovnik. After hauling our backpacks almost 4km through the dark and dingy industrial estate of Bar we eventually boarded our bus. We’d been careful to choose to sit on the side of the bus that afforded us the best view and when the sun came up over the Adriatic Sea it soon became pretty obvious to us why the region heaves with tourists over the summer season. The coast is absolutely stunning and we realised we should have stayed in Budva or Kotor in Montenegro rather than just-average Bar. Arriving in Dubrovnik over the hills behind it rewarded us with a postcard perfect view of the old town.

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Beautiful Dubrovnik harbour

We met a man in a park just outside the bus station who owned a hostel (as they all do). We seldom book anything in advance but generally have an idea of where we’ll stay unless someone can offer us something better. Our usual plan involves hanging around the bus/train station with a map and our backpacks and bargaining with the touts until the price reaches 10 euro per night. The man we met in Dubrovnik was about 70 years old and on his way to the market to buy sardines so we decided to go and stay with him. When we got back to his place he prepared and grilled his sardines in garlic and lemon and gave us half to eat on his patio overlooking Dubrovnik. Definitely a winner. Our nameless host’s wife, Budema, got us familiar with the map of town and assured us that it never snows in Dubrovnik, or at least hasn’t for 30 years. We’re finding our accommodation to be fairly hit and miss but generally we’re pretty happy with a comfy bed and internet access of some form. We’re been pleasantly surprised with the availability of Wifi internet everywhere we’ve been.

Our first afternoon in Dubrovnik we spent outside in the sun walking the coastal route.

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A Croatian fisherman bringing in his catch

The following day we headed into the old town to wander its narrow streets and see its harbours but were thwarted by rain. The next morning we woke to find Dubrovnik’s first snow in 30 years. According to Croatian radio it was the first snow to actually settle on the ground in more than 60 years. And it snowed all day. Big, fluffy, blizzard-like snow. Visibility was zero, but after being cooped up in our tiny room all day we decided to venture out and see how the locals were fairing, and for once it seemed the locals were more enthralled by the snow than we were. When it hasn’t snowed in 60 years, there is no etiquette for snow-play and we got amongst it with the four year-olds and the 74 year-olds.

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Snowy Dubrovnik

The following day we were out and about early to check out the old town in the snow. The council workers were out with their modified snow shovels and the locals were using dustpans to shovel their walks. It was the only time we’ve seen snow chains in use and our guesthouse lady was beside herself with excitement. The streets were full of snowmen and the harbour covered in snow.

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Modified snow shovels

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Dustpans for snow shovels

Oddly, Dubrovnik was going to be our back-up plan if the rest of Eastern Europe was too cold for us too handle. The crazy snow only proves that bad weather is, in fact, following us.

Posted by TDL 12:27 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Montenegro

Happy New Beer!!!!!!!!

sunny 5 °C

Again, we’d really only planned on transiting through Montenegro on our way to Croatia but ended up spending a couple of nights in Bar, on Montenegro’s Adriatic coast while we investigated our transport options. It would seem that most of Eastern Europe hibernates in winter, Montenegro’s transport system being no exception. We spent a day wandering around the ferry terminal and along the coastal pathway. Despite a cash injection from the USA which enabled the building of a beautiful foreshore esplanade, the rock beach is covered in trash and we can only imagine that a huge clean-up operation takes place sometime before all the summer holiday makers arrive from Italy.

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Pebble beaches at Bar, Montenegro

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Montenegro's Coast

Appreciating beer as we do, and given that beer is cheaper than water in all the countries that we've been to so far, we've made it our mission to diversify our beer tastebuds by drinking the local brew in each region we visit. Consequently, 'Happy New Beer' has replaced 'Happy New Year' as our toasting mantra.

Posted by TDL 11:55 Archived in Montenegro Comments (0)

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