Ballin’ through the Balkans

August 5, 2019 – August 10, 2019

Trip Summary: Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina (2 nights) -> Kotor, Montenegro (1 night) -> Dubrovnik (3 nights)

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

I turned 30 on August 4th, and the next day hopped on a plane to visit my 35th country feeling really blessed to be able to have so many adventures during our time spent living in Europe.

We rented a car in Dubrovnik and drove along the coast through Croatia before heading into Bosnia. I forgot just how beautiful Croatia is. The sea is this magical deep blue and there are mountains everywhere. The little towns are similar looking with tan brick walls and red roofs. As we drove, I just admired the beauty. We stopped in a small town called Ston to eat the freshest seafood and infamous oysters.

Unfortunately Tyler had a fever, so we didn’t make any other stops on the way to Mostar. We used Google Maps to get to our destination and went this crazy way down one lane dirt roads for an hour. We barely saw any cars, and when we got to the border we were just waved through without even a glance at our papers. This was a great surprise for me because I had read numerous blog posts of horror stories about border crossing in the Balkans. As we entered Bosnia, we continued along these windy mountain roads through the hills, going through several small villages where farming was the main livelihood. I saw so many greenhouses and vegetable stands.

Once we arrived to Mostar, I dropped a sickly Tyler off at the hotel and went to explore the small city. The highlight of the city is definitely Stari Most, a bridge over the river. The Stari Pazar has a great view of the bridge and I even saw people jumping off a nearby platform into the water.

I made a loop of the city, visiting the crooked bridge, some shops, and then walked across Stari Most itself. It was so slippery!

The Crooked Bridge

As I waited for Tyler to come meet me, I sat down at the Black Dog Pub and to my surprise, 3 kittens came out of nowhere to join me. I watched them play for a while and climb trees.

For dinner, we went to Hindin Han, a cute little place with a good view of Stari Most. In Mostar, the meat dishes are the thing to order, so we got a meat plate for two which had several different types of meats. Really it could have fed more like 6 people with all of the sausages, chicken, hamburger, and pork chops. It was delicious, but we barely ate any and the view of the bridge was the best part.

As we walked back to our hotel after dinner, we admired the city. It really is beautiful at night.

In contrast to most of our trips, our first full day in Mostar did not consist of a walking tour. Instead we just kind of wandered around, first going to the mosque. As I was already modestly dressed, I didn’t have to take wrap around my waist and shoulders. We walked up the small winding staircase to the top of the minaret and were astounded with the views of the whole town. It was a really small space, but we stood up there taking in the views until a few more people trickled up and it was uncomfortable to stand. On the way out, we stopped to admire the garden at the back of the mosque.

Really the town is only one big shopping street that winds around with every souvenir shop imaginable (tea sets, paintings, lamps, figurines).

After walking up and down it a few times, we went to a cafe for coffee and to again admire the main attraction – the Stari Most. While we were sitting down, we all of the sudden heard cheers and looked up just in time to see people jump off the 80ft tall bridge! I couldn’t believe my eyes and anxiously awaited the men to resurface. Apparently the locals get tourists to pay them money to jump off the bridge. We saw it several times while we sat and I was in awe each time.

Tyler was not impressed.

Because the town is so small, we saw pretty much everything within a few hours and decided to spend our afternoon swimming in the waterfalls at Kravica. It was only about a 50 minute drive through scenic little country towns. We saw several stands selling something called smokva which I later learned was a fig vodka, and really wished we had stopped to sample some.

It seems like a lot of other people had the same idea on this hot day about swimming in the waterfalls, and it was super crowded. It was a short walk down some stairs and ramps to the base of the waterfall. Because we had our phones and valuables on us, we took turns swimming and eating ice cream cones. The clear blue/green water at the bottom of the falls was mesmerizing, and very cold. I swam around for a bit, then sat out in the sun to dry off before we made our climb up the stairs back to our car.

On the way back, our GPS wasn’t working, so Tyler and I roughed it, relying on our sense of direction, road signs, and memory to get us back to the hotel. I was super impressed with us.

Since we still had some daylight left, we stopped at Blagaj, a small village at the base of a mountain that has a Dervish monastery called the Blagaj Tekija. This monastery was built in 1520 and has become a place where many Muslims visit regularly. We walked across a bridge to get a good view of the high rock walls, deep cave openings, and white monastery built into the rock. It was interesting to see this holy site, but probably not my favorite stop of the trip.

For dinner in Mostar, we went to the number one rated place on Trip Adviser called Tima-Irma, and let me tell you, I wholeheartedly agree with that rating. There was a line, the actually went pretty quickly considering how small the restaurant was. We ordered the meat platter for one and some veggies. Even though the platter was for one, it was huge – chicken, sausage, hamburger, skewers of pork, more sausages, pita, cheese, sour cream, mustard, veggies. A huge meal. We did not eat it all on our own. The best part was that the whole meal, wine included only cost EUR 16. A steal.

To end our evening, we strolled over to the Black Dog Pub for some live music. The music drew quite the crowd, and everyone would just grab a cushion from this big pile and find a spot to sit. Servers were walking around with beer, and we were content.

kitty

Kotor, Montenegro

We hit the road early to head to Kotor since we were only staying there for one night. Although Google said it would be a 3 hour trip, 4.5 hours later, we arrived in Kotor, Montenegro. The drive through Bosnia was beautiful and I didn’t realize how mountainous the countryside would be. Tall, gray peaks with bushes scattered across the ridges lined the windy roads. We even saw some goats on the mountainous trails.

It was all fun and games, until we almost ran out of gas. The first place we stopped for gas said that their card machine was down, so we headed on down the road. The next place also had a card machine not working, apparently the whole town was down. We pooled all of our cash and were able to put EUR 5 of gas into the car. Feeling confident we could make it to the next station, we got back on the road and missed our turn. Instead turning towards Dubrovnik, and not even noticing until we had almost made it to the border. We turned around and stopped once again for gas. This place was accepting cards, but was unfortunately out of gas. Luckily we made it to the Montenegro border without running out of gas, and the border crossing was uneventful, only taking about 10 minutes.

As we headed to the town of Kotor, we had the option to either drive around the bay or take the ferry straight through, which is quicker. We drove so that we could admire the scenery, but it turned out to just be one big traffic jam with lots of pedestrians to dodge.

In Kotor, we stayed at Apartments Portofino which was about a 5 minute bike from the city. We immediately put on our swim suits and jumped into the bay. The water was so salty and it was easy to float. We swam and admired the beauty for a while. The waters were so clear, and mountains surrounded the small bay. Seriously one of the most beautiful places I have been.

Luckily our B&B had bikes, so we rode those to town, feeling like we were in Amsterdam. The bikes did not work very well, and there weren’t really bike lanes, but other than that it was a great mode of transportation.

The Old Town of Kotor was so cool. It was a lot bigger than I had imagined with lots of pretty old buildings. It was crowded, but not unbearable. We kind of just wandered around getting lost down little streets, searching for kitties. The usual.

There were so many.

Tyler had made us dinner reservations at a cute little restaurant on the water. We got a table with an amazing view of the bay. There were little boats tied up along the shore and clear blue waters by our table.

We ordered some Serbian wine, octopus salad, and a mixed fish plate with salmon, white fish, shrimp, calamari, and black ink risotto, basically the best seafood ever. While we ate, a cat came over and looked at me. All of the sudden he jumped into my lap. I was so happy and started petting him, until he knocked some shrimp off my plate and jumped to the floor to eat it! I was shocked (but still happy)!

The walk back to the old town from dinner was beautiful along the shore. We spent our evening sitting outside in the city listening to some live music wishing we weren’t departing for Dubrovnik the next morning. If I had a do-over, I definitely would’ve spent more time in Kotor than Mostar.

Dubrovnik, Crotatia

Dubrovnik had been high on our bucket list for quite some time before we actually made it there. As an avid Game of Thrones nerd, Tyler was highly anticipating this trip. But first, we wanted to spend some time on the beach in Montenegro. Budva was only about 40 minutes from Kotor. The drive went quickly with only a bit of traffic even though it was a single lane road the whole way. We walked through the town looking for some pizza, but it was so hot, we barely spent any time wandering, and instead headed for the beach. We found a spot with an umbrella and set up shop. The beach was a bit disappointing. The water was dirty, and it just wasn’t that pretty in general. I much preferred swimming in the Bay of Kotor. We had a quick lunch that was mediocre before hitting the road to Dubrovnik. We wanted to get there by 6, and it was only supposed to be a 2 hour drive.

However, coming off the island, we sat in traffic for miles. We were in traffic the whole way to the ferry over the Bay of Kotor. The ferry was a short 10 minute ride, and was definitely a shortcut.

After that it wasn’t a terrible drive, until we got to the boarder to Dubrovnik and once again hit traffic. Here we finally found out what people meant about horrible border crossings. It took over an hour. When it was all said and done, it took us 5.5 hours to make it to our hotel in Dubrovnik. I didn’t care about all of the travel once we got there though, because I fell in love with the city.

I loved all of the red roofs and big towering walls. Even though it was extremely crowded and hot AF, I was so happy. For dinner, we had reservations at Restaurant Panorama, set on the top of a hill only accessible by cable car. Apparently, its a great place to watch the sunset, but we didn’t make it up there in time because of the delays. It would have been really cool to be up there while it was still light out to see the city below, but I guess it was also kind of cool to see the town lit up. The food was alright, but the views were awesome. We sat and watched huge cruise ships out at sea setting sail for the night. I would suggest skipping the food at the restaurant, and only going for the views and a drink.

To end our night, we wandered the streets of the Old Town of Dubrovnik and stopped for a beer at Hamlet Bar. We were still wide awake, even though it was late, so we explored the city a little more and ended up at the Shame Stairs from Game of Thrones. Of course we had to take pictures. I enjoyed walking around the town in the cool of the night without all of the crowds.

Number One on the list for Dubrovnik was a GoT walking tour. Apparently, this is also the numero uno thing for most other visitors as well. The next morning, we joined hoards of tourists eager to explore King’s Landing. First stop was the fortress which was used for several scenes, but most notably the Red Keep. Our tour guide gave us a good mix of Dubrovnik history as well as GoT facts.

We learned that CGI was used frequently to disguise locations or alter them. The Old Town only has about 6,000 people, but King’s Landing has about 1 million, so CGI was used to duplicate houses to expand the city. There was a whole crew dedicated to hiding modern day things such as light switches and plugs. They were called the foliage crew because they liked to hide plugs with plants.

My favorite stories were about the actors. In the first few seasons, they would just walk around the city enjoying anonymity since the location wasn’t known yet. Cersai could be found with short black hair and tattoos all over her body, posted up at the bar. Tyrion was also usually found at the bar, and sometimes he went missing and the crew would have to call around to see where he landed the night before. One time, he couldn’t make it back to the hotel and slept on a random guy’s couch. The random guy monetized the situation by hanging a sign on his door “Tyrion slept here”. Geoffrey was actually a nice dude and would buy the extras food and even bring his guitar on the set to serenade people. Many of the extras were Croatian and didn’t speak English well. During one mob scene in particular, they were shouting in their native language and you can hear shouts about the government or cursing, and one guy was yelling for everyone to buy his potatoes.

But anyways, back to the scenery. From the fortress, you could the whole city and the walls surrounding it, as well as some beaches.

We made our way through the city, trying to stay in the shade from the hot, hot sun. Really the only other memorable stop was at the stairs where Cersai did her walk of shame. Apparently, it wasn’t actually her, it was a body double from the UK who had to walk naked down the stairs in front of 700 people yelling and throwing food at her.

After the tour, we were really just interested in food and found this cute little Bosnian lunch place called Taj Mahal. I enjoyed an amazing soup of yogurt, cilantro, mint, and olive oil, ending the meal with a Bosnian coffee.

Against the advice of every tourist blog I read, we decided to walk the city walls at 1pm, when the sun may be arguably the hottest. This was one of my most anticipated events for the whole trip. We started at Pile Gate and upon walking up the steps, I was immediately stunned by the beauty of all of the red roofed buildings. You could also see the bright blue sea and the fort. It was nice and breezy as we walked towards the sea. The best part was that it wasn’t crowded at all. It seemed that everyone else had also read the travel blogs discouraging walking the walls during the hottest part of the day. Prepare yourself for picture overload, because I couldn’t just choose a few.

We meandered along the high walls taking in the views of the city below, stopping every now and then for a picture, or a rest in the shade. Once we passed the Ploce Gate, it got hotter with no breeze and no shade. A typical 100+ Dubrovnik summer day. Because the views along this edge of the wall were the best of the city, we powered through, with sweat dripping down our brow.

After completing one full loop, we ditched our soaking wet clothes for bathing suits and went to Buza Bar, a bar in the side of rocks that was great for cliff diving and sun bathing. I wasted no time jumping into the clear, blue water. It was so bright that you could see really far down. I swam for a while in the salty water and when I was cooled down I switched places with Tyler. I people watched while he swam. An old Croatian man brought by a crab trap, filled it up with bread, and dove into the water. When we were leaving a few hours later, he pulled back up the trap, and didn’t catch a thing. 😦 But he put some more bread in the trap and set off to attempt it again.

Once we were sufficiently cooled down, we wandered the old town for a bit before our dinner reservations. It was such a beautiful night, everyone was sitting outside enjoying beverages and the weather. I enjoyed a nice glass of wine while sitting on some steps. On the way to dinner, we stopped at the Hilton Hotel to enjoy a beverage, since this is where we heard the GoT cast used to stay. It was swanky. The bartender made us some delicious drinks while we chatted with a guy from LA and a Scottish man. It’s always interesting the people you meet at hotel bars.

For dinner, we went to Pantarul, a newly Michelin starred place. The food was delicious, but entirely too much to eat and we left stuffed and a bit tipsy from the bottle of wine we shared. Overall a great day in Dubrovnik

Because our flight out the next day was pretty late, we actually got to enjoy almost another full day in Dubrovnik. Really, we had no agenda, other than to wander and enjoy the city. We ate a great breakfast and then stumbled into this horse art show.

We hadn’t spent much time in the harbor, so that was our next stop. Tyler got talked into doing a glass bottom boat tour out to Lokrum, so that’s what we did. In the boat, you could see the bottom of the ocean and lots of fish swimming around. I enjoyed seeing the walls from a different vantage point.

They looked very formidable, and I tried to imagine how they had been used for centuries as a self defense.

We circled by Lokrum, a small island off the coast that is said to have a large population of rabbits and peacocks. We saw neither from our boat. The boat then headed to a beach and back to the harbor. On the way back we saw several really big, expensive houses and hotels that looked awesome. If only we could have stayed there!

Arriving back to the harbor with some time still to kill, we went on a kitty watch. Spotting all of the kitties in the city before spotting a wine bar to relax at. It was the great end to the Balkans portion of our trip, and then we headed to the airport off to Venice.

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