Wednesday, July 03, 2013

We went to Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina and I'm finally going to tell you about it!

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Well, a little bit, anyway.

D had to go to a conference in Dubrovnik in mid-April. The timing of the trip wasn't ideal since we'd just blown a lot of money on the move (some will be reimbursed, but it hasn't yet) but we decided to make a little vacation out of it anyway since plane tickets are one of the pricier things about getting to this part of Europe and his was already covered.

On the last day of his conference I flew over to join him.  Lufthansa served, of all things, Wurstsalat on the flight!  Normally they're pretty good!  The layover was in Munich; it was my first time through that airport and it's nicer than Frankfurt.  When we got to Dubrovnik I couldn't believe how small the airport was.  There are no jet bridges, the plane just pulls up to the building.  Also, the countryside there is gorgeous and really made me feel like I was somewhere totally different than where I woke up in the morning!

We stayed at an Air B&B apartment in the walled town.  Dubrovnik sits right on the Adriatic Sea and one small, hilly section on the water is completely walled off with unbelievably massive stone walls.  This is the bulk of the heavily-touristed area.  Our host, a grandpa-ish guy named Antun, greeted us and hung around for about an hour serving us fresh almonds and shots of god-knows-what.  There were separate male and female beverages, apparently!  He either didn't speak a word of English or he pretended not to, but he still managed to show us everything we needed to know about the apartment and we all had a nice time.

Dubrovnik was more impressive than it looks in pictures.  I tend to go for colorful places and the gray, gray, gray theme in Dubrovnik didn't look that cool until I saw it in person.  The walls are much more massive than I imagined, and the hills are really steep - no roads up them, just stairs!  Actually, I don't think there are cars at all in the walled city, which lends it a relaxed atmosphere.  The houses are in mazes of stairs and paths with ocean views and terraces and strange little gates - but supposedly very few people really live there anymore.  You can walk the walls for a fee, and the views of the sea and the city are stunning; it's very worthwhile.  The ticket also gets you access to a fortress located across a tiny bay from the walled city.  Although the walls are crowded with tourists, almost no one goes over to the fortress so it's a nice escape (also with beautiful views).

On the down side, Dubrovnik is a major cruise ship stop and as such is often jam-packed with boatloads of tourists.  On the main street in the walled town, most of the shops cater specifically to cruise ship passengers and have special agreements with or are owned by the cruise lines.  The other downer is that things were a lot more expensive than I might have guessed based on previous travel to Croatia.  Dubrovnik is the rich ritzy tourist town and you will pay for that.

It's worth visiting but next time I might try winter when things are a bit more chill.  There were a couple of cranky moments on the main drag when I swore I'd never visit another cruise port in my life.
Dubrovnik Apr 2013

We also spent an hour or two in nearby Cavtat when we had a rental car.  Its center is very small, although there's some tourist-industry sprawl coming out from it.  We had a nice walk along the water, where you could see neat creatures in tide pools!!
Cavtat Apr 2013

We rented a car specifically for a Mostar-based side trip.  I saw a photo of the bridge in Mostar a few years ago and immediately added it to the list of places I wanted to see, so I was pretty excited to discover that it's not far at all from Dubrovnik.  Information on non-car options to get there was a bit thin and sketchy, so we decided to play it safe and rented a car at Dubrovnik airport.

We drove from the airport to Mostar via a Google-suggested route that we later found out is not the usual route for tourists, possibly because it is less scenic or because it goes through less-affluent areas of Bosnia & Herzegovina.  It passed through lots of empty scrubland near the border - impressively empty.  Then I noticed a sign at the edge of the field - "MINE!"  Mines!  Literally, mines!  You could get blown up trying to cross through that scrubland!  People are killed in Bosnia and Herzegovina every year by mines left over from the wars in the 1990s.

Most of our drive took us through the Republika Srpska, the Serbian section of Bosnia & Herzegovina.  We stopped at a churchyard to have a picnic lunch after trying to drive into a town and seemingly getting told to just leave. Maybe the guy was trying to be helpful, but who knows with the language barrier!  Further along, we actually got pulled over in a small city for not having our headlights on in broad daylight, which is apparently a local law.  We couldn't communicate with the cop either and we thought he was trying to fine us for it, but he wasn't.  He was just trying to tell us the speed limit and to have a nice day.  We think.

As we neared Mostar the countryside started to look much more prosperous.  Photos I'd seen of Mostar were a bit misleading.  They made it look like a village, but it's pretty big!  It also saw a lot of fighting in the 1990s, and its famous bridge was actually destroyed in that war.  The city was divided at the time right along the river.  The area around Mostar is also heavily mined.  The town itself seemed quite safe and is now very touristy.  Buses come in from Croatia, including cruise ship outings, so all the businesses take Euro since that's what the passengers have.  We changed some money just to be sure, but then left the country with some of it and couldn't change it back, so take note of that if you visit!  We stayed at a Pension where our German came in handy with the staff (and the fried bread at breakfast was amazing!).  Things were much cheaper than Dubrovnik but still priced up because of people like us.

Oh, and I had a special toilet adventure which I have to share, so maybe stop reading now if you are eating and sensitive to such topics. I might have talked a bit about the squat toilets in Turkey and how I managed to avoid ever having to use one. Usually there were both squat and seat toilets available there, so you just had to wait for your preferred type to become available, which I did. I've also somehow managed to never have to pee in the woods. Anyway, at a restaurant in Mostar, I got up to pee and discovered that there was only one type of toilet - the squatter.  (Not only that, there was a giant axe in the restroom. Irrelevant, but notable.)  I actually wasn't in a desperate situation so I could have just bailed, but after the alcoholic beverage(s?) I'd consumed it didn't seem all that intimidating so I decided to go for it.  And... it was TOTALLY FINE! I didn't fall in or touch anything weird or pee on my clothes or anything.  Hurrah!!  (Sorry to disappoint anyone who was hoping for a disaster tale.)

Mostar Apr 2013

We took a different route back to Croatia from Mostar to hit up some different sites on the way.  One of these was Medjugorje, which might sound familiar if you know Catholicism.  Some kids in Medjugorje claimed to see Mary up on a hill in the woods, and since then the town has made major bank on it, building a big pilgrimage church and selling tons and tons of Mary crap.  It's a do-not-miss for shrine junkies or kitsch fans!  But there's really nothing else in town other than the church and a lot of plastic Mary statues and rosaries, so it was a quick stop for us.
Međugorje Apr 2013

We also stopped in nearby Pocitelj, an ancient hillside town on the Neretva River (the same one that passes through Mostar).  Like seemingly everywhere, Pocitelj took a lot of damage in the 1990s and you can still see this.  It was a sunny day and the setting was charming as all get-out with pretty stone buildings, flowers, ladies selling cones of fruit and nuts, and views over the river. 
Počitelj Apr 2013

Overall, it was a great trip, although it felt a bit rushed and financially the timing was a bit crappy.  Every single day the weather was beautiful, which was a nice contrast to England's dreary spring.  I could sort of start to see why people love to go south for vacation (which has never much appealed to me before - I dislike heat and crowded beaches).   I'd love to do more in both countries.  In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo would be next on my list. (Actually, it's already been on my list for years.) In Croatia, I think I'd like to go back to somewhere in Istria or near there - it was cheaper than Dubrovnik and just as lovely.  We also heard some great things about Montenegro while we were there and I'd love to see it for myself.  The border is very close to Dubrovnik but we couldn't take the rental car over there.  Perhaps next time we should also take the time to learn a few words in some Slavic language just to have a basis - neither of us has ever studied a Slavic language, leaving a big linguistic hole in Europe for us as we have some Germanic and Romance language down. I hope we'll be back in the area sometime, but for now we have a lot going on with family and friends and are on a bit of an international travel hiatus.  One I'm looking forward to. :)

TL;DR: We went to Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and we liked it.  You should look at the photos, it's faster than reading all this and says more.

2 comments:

  1. The layover was in Munich; it was my first time through that airport and it's nicer than Frankfurt.

    I agree fully. I can't stand the Frankfurt airport. That place always does it's best to screw me. Munich is nice, though.

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  2. I remember those massive transport planes arrayed on the Rhein Mein Air Base side of the Frankfurt airport zone, their wings arched down, in vain attempt to touch the concrete.

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