I know it’s all about 2019, but let’s not be too hasty to shun it’s little brother 2018 (he still has a lot to offer!), and in that spirit – here’s what I got up to offline in the last three months of last year.
Another Visit To The Motherland
Where I got to experience the autumn season for the first time in years! This meant I got to experience things like roasting chestnuts, eating young walnuts and waking through Wuthering Heights-level mist, ‘Oh Heathcliff!”.
A Stop In Rastoke
On my way to Bosnia I spent a few hours in Rastoke, a town that’s known for its waterfalls and mills. It’s one of those fairy tale type towns you won’t believe actually exist until you see it in one of those listicles. I get it! I mean look at it. Add it to your go-to list guys.
No matter how many vitamin D pills I pop … S.A.D has kicked in, I did put in some effort to get out so most weekends didn’t go lost in the grey skies. I went to the cinema a lot, wandered around galleries and museums, gave ice-skating a go, had a ridiculous amount of cheese platters and mulled wine, went to one of the places Instagram recommended, tried Korean plum wine (I think it’s a keeper!) and crossed another Mexican place off my list.
I set foot on Eel Pie Island and enjoyed some random art Eel Pie Island Art Studios has to offer. In the 1960s Eel Pie Island was a music venue based at the hotel on the island and artists like the Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart were all famous and musicy. Now the island is a private community of artists who open their studios twice a year for the public to visit and purchase their work. But really you just want to look at the weird things like the ice-cream/sweets inspired house, the Aquaman/Barbie artwork and adorable cats parading around.
What were you up to in the last three months of 2019?
It’s been a long-time coming, but finally here’s my take on what to do (and not to do!) in one of the cities closest to my heart. Bosnia’s capital makes for a great city trip or 2-3 days stop-off on your Balkans round trip. I’m sharing some things you should do in Sarajevo, some things to watch out for and some things that I missed out on or weren’t for me, but that might be for you.
Sarajevo was under siege for almost 4 years – to help understand what was going on and learn about the day-to-day life, head to the city’s History Museum – just off ‘Sniper Alley’ which tells the complex history of the Balkans, and details life in a city under siege. For extra credit, read Zlata’s Diary by Zlata Filipović, where 12 year old Zlata documented her wartime, and Fools Rush In by Bill Carter, an aid worker in the region at the time with an incredible story to tell.The city had a hectic history long before the siege, so join a walking tour to get the low down on this. The tour stops include the spot which kicked off World War I (where Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot), the so-called ‘Sarajevo Rose’ – where the mortars hit and were later filled with red resin creating a floral-like memorial, and the Canned Beef Monument, an ironic statement on the quality of food aid given during the siege.
Allow some time to get lost in the cobbled streets of the Old Town, a crossroads of cultures with the Ottoman architecture alongside Austrian-Hungarian. Wander around market stalls, and stock up on hand-made woollen socks, jewellery or local copper-ware. Followed this up with a traditional Bosnian coffee at a ‘Kafana’ or Cafe bar – they come with a sugar cube or piece of Turkish delight.
The Old Town is also where it’s at for food. For lunch grab a sandwich at Fan (Kundurdziluk 11) or chown down on burek (meat or veggie filled pastries) from one of the many bakeries. Or maybe skip lunch and wait for dinner with cevape at Ferhatović Petica (Bravadžiluk 21). Everyone will tell you to go to the famous Željo 1 (Kundurdžiluk 19) for their cevape, but after some very in-depth research I can tell you Petica is the only location you need to know about.
Just outside Sarajevo, in the village of Donji Kotorac, is the famed tunnel the Bosian Army built during the Seige of Sarajevo to bring supplies into the cut-off city. Today, the tunnel entrance has a small museum where you learn how it worked and you can enter a small section of it to feel what the people at the time went through.
Don’t spend money on bottles of water ad it’s safe to drink the tapwater. Plus if you fill up your bottle at the Sebilj Fountain in Old Town, legend says you’ll return to the city again!
Hiking in the mountains is definitely something you should add to your to-do list, but do not wander off trails as some of the hills around the city may still contain unexploded landmines. There are enough ways to safely explore the Bosnian countryside, but make sure to check the latest info at the tourist information or take a guided tour.
This brings me to empty and abandoned buildings in rural areas that might look like great for urban exploring. Just don’t as they might be booby-trapped with explosives and mines to stop looters from stealing their homes. The explosives may not have been removed so stay on the safe side.
Of course not everyone who is being up-close and friendly is on the hunt for your wallet or phone, but keep an eye out for pickpockets on trams. It’s not terribly bad, but similar to Prague or Paris.
Did you know that Sarajevo played host to the ’84 Winter Olympics? The abandoned 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics Bobsleigh Track, found high in the mountains above the city is the place to be for urbex. Remember to stay on the tracks though.
A day trip to Mostar to see the Stari Most, Old Bridge of Mostar – a rebuilt 16th-century Ottoman bridge connecting the two parts of the city. The Old Bridge stood for 427 years, until it was destroyed in 1993, the replica was rebuilt in 2004 and it’s as glorious.
Getting lost in a city isn’t something you always want on holiday, but places like Dubrovnik practically beg you to escape from the crowd and savour the architectural treasures of the old town, imagining all the drama that took place on these cobbled streets over the centuries.
Though most people rent out their place in summer you will still spot signs from the locals: the old ladies who are chatting, hanging laundry out to dry, and cats sunbathing all day and give you a fuck off when you try to take a photo. While you, me and everyone’s grandma seems to have discovered the place, it suffers from overtourism (there are plans to only let 4,000 people a day in) so enjoy those views while they last.
If Dubrovnik was a travelquote it would be something in the line of: every alley leads to new adventures so don’t be afraid to get lost in the labyrinth. Like you might stumble upon a hidden bar built into the side of the cliff that also happens to be a cliff diving spot. You can watch people jump or decide to actually to embrace your inner daredevil and take the leap.
The old airport in Zagreb holds a special place in my heart. It was the very first destination I flew to and the first time I returned to my home country Bosnia after having fled 6 years earlier. I know that sometimes old can be charming, but the terminal was in need of a make-over. Thankfully my prayers were answered and a brand new terminal had appeared in 2017 and last week I got to dip my toes in for the first time.
My flight was delayed so I was lucky enough to spend my Saturday at the Gate 16 – 26 area from about 12.45 til 15.00 and while admiring the shiny steel and concrete architecture I thought I’d answer some Frequently Asked Questions about Zagreb’s Franjo Tuđman Airport – not that you asked.
What you need to know about Zagreb’s Franjo Tuđman Airport
What’s the most important thing to know? The airport is still relatively new, with lots of stores ‘coming soon’, so you won’t be able to kill much time window shopping.
What to eat and drink at Franjo Tudman Airport
Now for an easy one … How much for a bottle of water? At Caffe Nero a bottle of water costs 21 kuna (that’s around £2.40 / €2.80 / $3.50) which is nothing unusual for an airport. Are you trying to save the environment by carrying a refill bottle? Well, bad luck for you as there are no fountains to be found. You technically can do it in the rest rooms, but the water is lukewarm.
And can I get my Big Mac or a grande triple chocolate soya mocha at the airport? Caffe Nero is the only chain to be seen at both arrival and departure. The best thing about this Caffe Nero? They serve pita/burek for only 12 kuna (that’s around £1.40 / €1.60 / $2) ! So if you haven’t stuffed your face with enough already in Croatie (or the Balkans) this is your last chance. There’s also a pub and a buffet-style restaurant with the usual soups, pastas and burgers as well as cevape (but without the bread sadly!). Prices start at 60 kuna (that’s around £7 / €8 / $10).
Whatever. What about the real essentials? Is there Wi-Fi? Yes! And since there isn’t much to do to kill time you and Wi-Fi will be besties. Like at most airports all you do is sign in and you are online! There wasn’t a time limit and it was really quick – so you can blame them for all the posts I’m spewing at you at the moment.
I know enough. Can I charge my phone, tablet and laptop while waiting? Throughout the departure hall there are several poles with a number of USB and charging plugs, the downside is that you have to stand around the poles while waiting. Who knew poles could be so exciting … and for free.
Are the chairs comfortable at all? Could I nap comfortably when I have long stopover? There are no armrests between the seats, but don’t get too excited as you can see they are not the most comfortable to lie on, so you’ll obviously need someone to lie on top of …
What about the toilets? There were enough around the gates, they were super clean and I can’t complain much, except that the coat/bag hangers in the toilet stalls I went to seemed to be broken. Why or how do you break a toilet coat hanger????
Anything cool you saw? I still can’t get over the fact that well known Italian coffee chain sells pita/burek. #nospon. In case you are wondering … Pita/burek is the Balkans’ very own comfort food – a filo dough filled with meat, potatoes, vegetables or cheese.
Anything else I need to know? Not something I can guarantee, but literally every staff member I encountered was superfriendly and smiled, which I was extra surprised about as us Balkan people are masters of the resting bitch face and most of our names rhyme with bitch for a reason. Everyone either seemed to be having a good day or they were keeping their laughs in when I spoke to them in my backwards farmer way.
Have you visited the airport? What was your experience and what did I miss out on at gates 1 – 15?
When you are planning a trip to Kotor there are a few things you’ll definitely end up doing – walking the Old Town, going on a scenic drive around the Bay of Kotor and huffing and puffing as you trek up the City Walls. For those with a bit more time, wanting to avoid the crowds and looking for a little more adventure might consider hiking the Ladder of Kotor.
It’s a curvy and scenic hiking trail with 70+ u-turns leading you into the mountains above the Kotor for the best postcard views of the area. The trail is also known as the Ladder of Cattaro and used to be part of a historical route that connected the bay of Kotor with the smaller surrounding villages, my heart goes out to all those horses and donkeys that had to take the carts and people through the mountains.
The trail starts outside of the Old Town. To get there, walk down of Old Town’s North Gate. The road is lined with old buildings, take the path along the river and you should be able to make out the u-turns clearly.
Every step has a spectacular view that only gets better the higher you go, with colourful pomegranate trees lining the paths. Since it’s literally zig-zagging up the hill the trail is very easy to follow – but just in case there are red and white markings painted on the rocks to guide your trail. The trail is rocky and uneven – so unless you have feet of steel, ditch your flip-flops/sandals for proper shoes/trainers.
About 1/3 up you will find another trail going to the right to a small church and the Kotor Fortress – you’ll have to climb through a window-shaped arch in the wall to get there. So you can end your hike here and go down via the castle walls on the tourist route. Those who sweat all of the way to the top (940 meters) will be rewarded by phenomenal views of the Bay of Kotor and beyond and get to brag about it.
Halfway up you will hear a barking dog and then see a little stone house, don’t worry the dog won’t bite, his paws won’t let him use a mobile so he is one of the few that just gets excited to see people come by. His owners, the old couple that live there sell homemade cheese, pomegranate juice and other refreshments. On your way back you can sit on the terrace and enjoy the view and listen to the guy’s stories on how it’s to live in one of the most idyllic places in the world. The cows and mules you might run into are also theirs.
To return to Kotor you can take the trail towards the Fortress so you can hike down via the walls of Kotor, which will lead you directly in the Old Town. Alternatively, to avoid the swarms of tourists, prepare for sore glutes and follow the path back the way you came.
My first time in Kotor was super short and very last minute. We were on a Balkan backpack trip and arrived in Podgorica after a 13 hour train trip from Belgrade. One of the girls we met on the train told us there was nothing going on in Podgorica and recommended Kotor.
After 3 hours in Podgorica we had seen it all, so we took a bus to Kotor and arrived in the late afternoon, and knew this was the best decision we had taken: ten steps in we learned that Kotor was picturesque, historic, and just plain beautiful. The one hostel I had written down was full (this was way before the Hostelworld app!) but the staff managed to find us a room that an old lady rented (this was also pre Air BnB). Sadly, by the time we dumped our luggage and wanted to hike up the fortress we learned it was closed and the bus we HAD to take was leaving at 7 AM the next morning. I knew one day I had to come back.
And I did, five years later I woke up at 6 AM to walk up to the fortress and to see what the fuss was about, it was well worth the wait. I grabbed a watermelon on the square where my friend had lost her earring and 10 people helped us search for it. I made friends with new cats, probably related to the ones I saw years ago. I noticed the restaurants hadn’t changed at all and they still offered pasta, pizza and schnitzel. I challenged myself to walk up the Ladder of Kotor, stopped for homemade grapefruit juice and cheese at this tiny farm house halfway in the mountains and stayed for too long and listened to stories from the couple that live up there.
And I still think I would go back, but more importantly: I want you and everyone I know to add it to their wanderlist. But if you’re like me and have a wanderlust for pretty much everywhere, it won’t be too long, but just in case here are some photos to inspire you to visit Kotor.
I’ve heard a lot people say that the city reminds them of entering another world and I hope this comes across in the pictures.
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