We’ve been dreaming about the Balkans for some time, so it’s great to finally be here exploring the region in depth! The more we see, the more we realise that we’re missing, though, so we’re already considering a trip back in the not-too-distant future.
Monday 7/10: Low clouds and short rainshowers obscured the rounded hills on either side of the road as we travelled by bus from Zadar to Split; a break in the weather now and then revealed tiny red-roofed villages perched on ridged or nestled into coves. Most of the vegetation was a scrubby green that looked like it could use the rain, so we didn’t begrudge it until we got soaking wet on the way to our hostel in Zadar. We’d had a coffee at the bus station, waiting for a heavy shower to ease up, and set off into a drizzle which got steadily heavier. But when we stopped a taxi to travel the rest of the way in the dry, the driver said it was close and pointed us in the wrong direction.
At least the hostel, Backpackers Fairytale, was nice. We were met by the owner’s dad, who showed us around the hostel and gave us some information about Split, and told us we’d be the only guests that night.
In the late afternoon, the rain stopped and the sun emerged, and we decided we’d better make the most of this opportunity to see the city. So we rubbed Gregory of Nin‘s toe, admired the mix of ancient ruin and modern construction in the palace, and walked along the waterfront and up Marjan hill for a great view over the city.
Tuesday 8/10: The morning’s rain eased off in the afternoon, so we headed back down into the city, where for €6 we got access to the cathedral, its treasury, bell tower, and crypt, as well a baptistry in the tiny Temple of Jupiter. The cathedral, crypt and baptistry weren’t super exciting, but the treasury housed some amazing old books and the bell tower gave a spectacular view over the city. Getting to the top was a bit scary, though — the iron stairs circle up the inside walls of the otherwise empty tower, and though it was probably perfectly safe I was happy to reach the top and not feel so much vertigo.
Wednesday 9/10: Since we’d missed seeing the fish market in operation during the previous two days, we braved the rain to check it out. There weren’t too many stalls open, but it was worth seeing nonetheless.
Our bus to Dubrovnik was both cheaper (115kn) and longer than we’d expected — we arrived a full hour after the scheduled time. The trip along the coast was pretty spectacular: lots of dark green islands and rough sea.
Our host, Ivan, picked us up from the bus station and took us back to his place (Villa Ivan), where he gave us just what we needed after a long journey: coffee. By this time it was too late to explore the city, so we visited a nearby supermarket for supplies and had cevapi for dinner at a local pizzeria.
Thursday 10/10: We hadn’t originally planned to visit Dubrovnik, but so many people had recommended it that we substituted out Sarajevo for three days in Croatia’s southernmost city. After a day of exploring the ancient streets of its old town and wandering through some of its newer areas, though, we’re not convinced. Dubrovnik is by far the most expensive city in the country, and the old town has an empty yet crowded feeling to it — tourists throng the streets, but locals can’t afford to live there (according to Ivan), which means that it just doesn’t have much of a vibe.
Friday 11/10: We’d cut Bosnia and Herzegovina out of our itinerary, but we didn’t want to miss it all together. So we joined a day tour that would take us to most of the main sights in the south of the country: the Roman villa at Mogorjelo, the pilgrimage town of Medugorje, gorgeous Mostar, and the fortress at Pocitelj. We particularly enjoyed sitting in the sun by Mostar’s river, eating figs and waiting for someone to jump off the city’s iconic bridge; and getting sticky fingers from eating pomegranate straight from the tree after climbing to the top of Pocitelj tower.
Saturday 12/10: Bus travel has never been our favourite, and Saturday’s journey was a great example of why. We’d investigated bus times and prices, but our tickets cost more than expected and we had to change our last euros to kuna at a bad rate. Then, when we went to board the bus with our bags, we were yelled at by a bad-tempered woman who said that we not only had to put them under the bus, we had to pay for the privilege (“you must pay!”). This was odd, since the other two times we’d travelled with the same company, we’d been allowed to keep them with us. So, frustrated and considerably broker, we finally got on the bus towards Kotor… and waited until 20 minutes past departure time to actually leave.
Long waits at the border didn’t help, and neither did getting caught in a sudden shower on the way to our hostel, Montenegro Hostel Kotor. But Kotor was worth all the effort. We’re staying in the old town, which is tucked between a steep cliff face and a lake, and fortress walls snake up to a ruin well above the city. After settling into our apartment near the hostel’s main building, we had a chat with the owner Gordana then set off to explore the city in the dusk.
Sunday 13/10: The low clouds of the morning had completely cleared by the time we’d bought and packed a picnic and set off up the fortress steps. A cruise ship was in port, so we were accompanied by quite a few other people, but we’d been given some advice they didn’t know about: near the top, we ducked through a window in the wall, and followed a dirt track to the ruin of an old church. From there, we climbed up again until we reached a small house, where we were welcomed by a young girl and her mother, who sold us cheese and fed us pomegranates.
When we finally reached the top of the hill, we pulled out our picnic of brown bread, cheese, tomatoes, and red wine; other visitors lamented their lack of planning. We took our time eating then slowly descended, and went for a long walk after a slow afternoon of work and reading.
One of the services Hostel Montenegro Kotor offers is a traditional dinner for just €5. The chef was away the day before but came back in time to prepare us the most amazing meal we’ve had in some time: a cucumber and tomato salad, tzatziki, rice with vegetables, and a generous portion of meat. Yum.