The 6 Things I miss about Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro

It has taken me some time to write this, but there is so much to say about Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro!  Although I only had the chance to visit a few things and places in these 3 countries, I’ve gotten a taste for it, that makes me want to take the next plane back when I look at the photos!

My latest trip took me to the Balkans. Although I had heard of it’s beautiful scenery and nature, it’s culture and the Ćevapi, I was not at all prepared for the impression this area in Europe left on me.  Below are the six things that I miss:

NATURE

Having our trip stretched out along the coastline makes for occasionally very long drives.  However the landscape gladly gives back for this: all you can see are landscape lines after landscape lines after landscape lines.  Impossible to look away from and definitely impossible to get tired of.  So many trees (and living on an island where there is close to one forest with all the trees of the country on it, it’s easy to miss trees – I even started hugging them!).

This need for green was easily fixed in the nature reserves and national parks we visited.  One of these parks contains the Kravice waterfalls and is based on the Trebizat River in the heart of Herzegovina in Bosnia & Herzegovina.  It consists of a large lake surrounded by up to 20 waterfalls, from which the water falls 25meters down.  In summer it is very popular for swimming and picnics.  Right next to the base of the falls, there is a little cafe with excellent cappuccino, a rope swing and a place to camp.   Please do wonder around the trails near the river, it offers free blackberries and lots of insects, butterflies and blizzards to shoot by camera.

Hutovo Blato is a nature and bird reserve, also located in Bosnia & Herzegovina.  Based on the Krupa River, it consist of mainly marshlands accessible by boat (you can pay for a boat ride there and then).  The reserve itself is home to many a bird species (up to 240 types of migratory birds pass through every year), frogs, water snakes, fish and insects.    Attractions are the nature and wildlife, trails through the park, birdwatching and photo safari by boat.

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The waterfalls at Krka National park – a beautiful stunning place, which has a more relax feeling about it then Plitvice lakes, although the falls are really popular with tourists.  The falls consist out of 9 falls, and if you like to have a dip in the cold water, you can do so at the very last fall.  Although tempting you are not to swim under the waterfalls themselves, in fact the swimming area is clearly marked with floating barrier .  There is a trail in and around the park, which will show you around the area. Unfortunately we didn’t have sufficient time for this.

We also visited Vjetrenica Caves which is one of (if not) the largest and most important cave in Bosnia & Herzegovina.  The cave has been explored to measure a total of 6.7km in length, of which the main channel is about 2.5km long.  The name of the caves, Vjetrenica, means Wind cave or blow hole, and at certain parts you can hear and feel the wind blow very clearly!  if you visit, I suggest you wear non-slip footwear and bring a coat as temperatures can drop down to 7 or 10 degrees.  Combined with a high humidity, it can get very chilly in there!

FOOD

Fresh fish and seafood, seafood risottos, fish stew on the adriatic coast – do I really need to say more?! 🙂

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I was also told plenty of times before leaving about the famous Ćevapi, which is like a kebab or sausage (for lack of a better comparison) made out of mixed beef and lamb meat and herbs, and then grilled… simple but amazing!

I definitely recommend the fish stew, Dalmatian style, which is like a Croatian version of the famous French Bouillabaisse,  a good fish soup with plenty of fish and potatoes in it.  We ate this in Trogir, where we stopped for dinner and sunset.

CITIES

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Dubrovnik is crowded by tourists during the day but has amazingly beautiful, artful, historic buildings. It is not hard to see why it is the number 1 tourist attraction of Croatia!  Millions of people visit this medieval walled city every year. And when i mean millions, I mean millions so if you visit for photography go either late at night or very early morning (we were there straight from the airport at 7am and another evening up to 11pm for night photography).  It’s wonderful to walk around the streets and alleys of the old city and to sneak out through the doorways in the defensive walls for a magnificent view of the beautiful blue Adriatic and just snap away.

Ston is a small village situated close to the Bosnian border which is the proud owner of the European “Chinese” wall, the longest fortifications in Europe.  It is located next to the sea, which results in excellent fresh seafood and fish dishes in the local restaurants.  Locals live in the village still like they have for years, often leaving a table and some chairs in the (pretty much traffic free) road to sit outside. This shows there is still very much a community active, amongst the tourists visiting.  I fear that the more popular Ston will become, the less of this we will be able to see.  Please have a wonder around the fortification walls or through the streets to look at abandoned houses (great for some urbex photography) and amazing architecture dating back to the 1800’s and 1900’s.

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Mandatory is a visit to Mostar (Bosnia & Herzegovina) – Mostar is situated on the Neretva River and was very badly damaged during the Balkan war.

The city derives it’s name from the bridge keepers (or mostari) who in the medieval times guarded the famous Stari Most (Old Bridge) over the river.  The bridge itself was entirely destroyed (reportedly it took 60 shells before it collapsed) during the Balkan war, but was meticulously restored in 2004 with international funding, using Ottoman techniques and local stone, to resemble the original bridge in as much detail as possible. Today you can again cross the Neretva over the bridge, but be careful as it is very slippery from the thousands of footsteps since its restoration.
A significant portion of the  city has been rebuilt since the war and has transformed it into a lively and beautiful destination, particularly in and around the centre or old town.  If you go a little further from the centre however, you can still see some of the scars the war has left; boards with photos show restorations made, buildings are still riddled with bullet holes or destroyed by shells. In some cases, it is unclear who owns the property or there is simply no funding for restoration, and thus it is left as is.

When we were there, preparations and training were underway for the Red Bull Cliff Diving of 24th September, which offered some great high speed action photography opportunities and (apparently) some really famous divers.  Diving off the bridge has been a local tradition for over 400 years.

Mostar is very touristy and busy during the day and you do need to watch out for pickpockets but that is fairly normal everywhere these days. Shopping wise it is great for souvenirs such as moorish lamps, scarves, dried lavender, jewellery (both artisan and more commercial) and other typical local souvenirs.  It is also the first place I’ve been to where you can visit religious houses of 3 different religions (Catholicism, Islam and Orthodox) on the same street.  And the Imam will call for prayers simultaneously when the church bells ring for mass.

Omis (Croatia) is a small Dalmatian town located between Split and Markarska, on the Cetina River and the Omis Riviera, with numerous beaches and bays, lush nature fresh air and crystal clear blue sea.  The town itself functions as a harbour on one side and is backed by the mountains, which during medieval times, would help protect it from foreign invaders and pirates.  Though a challenge, but definitely worth it is the climb up to the fortress which will allow you to climb all the way up in the tower.  The last stretch is via a ladder (not stairs as before) though, that leads out on top of the tower for an amazing 360 degrees view of the landscape, town and sea.  Omis is just lovely to wonder around in, with its narrow cobbled streets, historical sites and churches.  It’s also impossible to miss the  shopping area with little quant shops selling local products (organic beauty products with deliciously smelling cocoa butter) and art work, to souvenirs and postcards.  Should you have 3 hours time and a have a thirst for a little adrenaline, then you can zip-line over the Cetina Canyon on a height of 150meters, zipping by at speeds of up to 65km per hour, for approx. 700m. Do book a few days in advance not to be disappointed!

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Kotor is a coastal town located in Montenegro, a long 4 hour drive from our hotel in Neum.  It is located in the Bay of Kotor and is surrounded by fortifications built during the Venetian period. This clearly shows in certain architecture such as the Maritime Gate in the city walls and the fortification walls that surround the city.   the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon in the old town dates back to 1166, and one of the 2 Roman Catholic cathedrals in the country.

From Kotor we left for Budva, one of the oldest settlements on the Adriatic Sea Coast.  It is estimated to be approx. 2500 years old. Main attractions are (as always) wondering around the tiny roads within the walls of the city fortress.  We didn’t stay very long here unfortunately, as we got stuck in a very bad rain storm which forced us to leave earlier than planned to drier areas. Montenegro offers an unforgettable combination of exceptional natural beauty and rich culture and history.

Blagaj is a village located to the south of Mostar, but situated at the spring of the Buna river and home to a historical Tekke or Dervish Monastery.  The Blagaj Tekke was built around 1520, with elements of both Ottoman and Mediterranean architecture.  The river Buna literally runs through the village and the restaurants situated there. Thus be careful of moving your chair back to stand up from the table, you likely have only about 75cm to 1m between you and the river!  You can take a ‘path’ around the houses that leads to near the entrance of the cave just opposite the monastery.  There you can take a boat trip into the cave.  Food is again lovely in Blagaj, fresh fish and typical dishes. Don’t forget to have a real Bosnian coffee after lunch or dinner.  Bosnian coffee is part of the Bosnian & Herzegovinian identity.    Raw coffee is roasted and ground.  The ground beans are then put in a heated metal pot also knowns as a džezva to be gently heated themselves.  Only then boiled water is added and after this, the džezva is placed on a hot plate to be left standing till the coffee rises to the top and forms a fine mousse.  The now black, smooth coffee is transferred to a small cup and served with a glass of cold water and Turkish delight.

SUNSETS

The sunsets in Croatia, what can I tell you about these?  Beautiful, colourful, making you want to sit down and just watch the sun set.  Amazing colours that turn darker and deeper with the minute the sun starts settings, and turn a richer orange and red after she’s completely sunk.  I have seen some amazing sunsets, but these are simply unforgettable

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TIME

I will miss the time spent wandering around cobbled streets, visiting churches and shops,  the friendly Dobre Dan of shop attendants when you walk in, peoples smiles, the on occasion simply crazy driving of our bus driver Milan, cheap but gorgeous meals, trying to remember if I could pay in Euro (90% of the time), Croatian Kuna (Croatia) or Bosnian Marks, just looking around and being inspired to take photo after photo after photo, the never ending lines of the islands in the Adriatic (it’s not for no reason Croatia is called the country of 1000 Islands) and the landscape, the thousands of green trees, the rivers large and small…

COMPANY

What or rather who I will definitely miss, are my fellow travellers, a band of merry men and photographers, who made the trip special, funny and lots of fun!

Special mention of

Mr. W. who shot sneaky photos of the rest of the group sleeping;
Mr. T.  who’s laugh is unmistakable;
Mrs. M. who undoubtedly is the Queen of Selfies,
Mr. M. who’s pizza making skills are legendary (and will do a bbq at Chadwick Lakes soon or so I have heard)
and Mr. S. – photographer extraordinaire, whose patience and advice was invaluable

The jam packed week we spent driving around the coastline visiting all we visited was simply not enough, and definitely left us with a taste for more!

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