The Travel Bug Episode 17: Going around Bosnia, Serbia and Slovakia

The Travel Bug
PC @ ThoughtsCroatia sure was fun; Split, Hvar, Korcheva, Dubrovnik – site seeing, island hopping, chilling, partying. Sure there were some questionable low points with some hostels, but overall, the experience was still one to remember.
Dave goes around some really picturesque countryside on this post. From that old bridge in Mostar, to some ruins in Bosnia, to the surprising countryside of Sarajevo and through to the Belgrade heat, and magic of Slovakia and Vienna.
Dave has sure covered a lot of ground in this post, which would add value to the most avid traveller.
And so without further ado..

Leaving Dubrovnik

IT was time to leave Croatia, my next stopping point being Bosnia, a country which I knew little about (this meant I was headed east). All I did know was that Bosnia had recently been through a war and I was keen to see how it had affected the country. It was the first time I’d be to a country that had recently been through war and figured there would be some interesting sites to see.

The bus trip from Dubrovnik to the border was around four hours. The bus was stopped at the border by guards and I had my passport inspected. It was the first time in Europe (outside of an airport) that any type of customs official, a soldier actually, had asked to look at my passport, this was uneventful, however.

Once over the border it was not long until I reached the town of Mostar, I hopped off the bus and it was around 35 degrees +, the warmest weather I had experienced since leaving Australia (much hotter than South America). Upon arrival at the bus station I was greeted by a hostel owner asking if I required accommodation, which I did as I had not organised anything, he escorted me to his hostel which was a quick walk from the station. The hostel was family run and indeed, his family lived there and were most welcoming, giving me a Turkish coffee and a bottle of Fanta.

That old bridge in Mostar

After a few hours’ sleep, I decided to check out the small town, another ancient old city as the ones I had seen in Croatia. Mostar is most famous it’s Bridge, the “Symbol of the Herzegovina”, I later learnt that it has been destroyed in 1993 during the Bosnian war and then later rebuilt so I was seeing the replica.

Dive

Dive off this? No thanks

The bridge is well-known as it’s a famous place for diving into the river below. The river below looked more like a creek and the bridge to river distance looked around 25m.

This was not something casual backpackers could (or should) engage in and whilst impressive, I thought the idea of doing this to be quite mad, like a lot of Bosnians I met, mad in a friendly way.

 

History of the area

The thing about the city is that most of the building are in fact destroyed, bombed during the Bosnian war, they were now uninhabitable and had trees and plants growing on them, not lived in since the war. The bombed buildings were a tribute to what happened during the war, other fully functioning buildings / businesses sitting in and around these destroyed ruins, it was all quite surreal and beautiful.

Bombed

A Mostar building that was bombed, I think it was a bank office building

The old town is also gorgeous, lots of cobbled roads full of markets selling different types of mementos.

That night I had dinner in the old town with some of the others from the hostel. The food was very good, very cheap compared to anywhere else I’d been so far in Europe, and quality customer service, they got my order wrong so I had two plates of veal instead of one at no extra charge.

The best way to describe the place is romantic, candle light dinners amongst the ruins. I did not have a late night however attempting to pursue any romance as was I had an excursion the next day.

Hello Bosnia!

The next day I was up bright and early, four of us from the hostel were going on a tour of the local area. Bosnia is very small so it only really takes a day to see a significant part of the country. The excursion included three stops, first was a Moslem temple built into a cliff side, it was founded by the Dervishes, dancing people who I don’t really know much else about them though I had encountered them in Turkey a few years earlier. The temple had a waterway coming out of the cliff side and formed a rather large river. You could feel the cold emanating from the water which was a bit of a bonus as you could not swim and it was already working towards the anticipated 40 degrees for the day (Bosnia is hot).

The second stop was at the Ottoman fortress of Kotor, the villagers still lived in the old city and the top of the fortress had quite an impressive view of the valley. I found out a lot of the area is inhabited by Moslems and from what I can see, they got along a very well with the local Christian population. The area used to be part of the Ottoman Empire and you could tell by the culture and architecture. I had some lunch and stared out at the valley, lots of farmland and rivers crossing each other.

The third stop was an unexpected bonus, Kravice waterfalls, which were absolutely stunning. The area was surrounded by trees, I’d guess the falls at about 15m high and there was a massive pool full of friendly swimmers having a good time. The water was ice-cold and much appreciated as the sun had hit the anticipated 40.

A scenic train trip 

I got back to the hostel and that night I had a 6.30 am train to Sarajevo, after listening to a few stories from the hostel owner who was involved in the war, everyone in Bosnia was effected, (he was also happened to be an ex-pro footballer) I caught the train with three English girls I’d met at the hostel. This ended up one of the most scenic train journeys I’ve ever had, possibly the best train trip. Basically, the trip involved heading along the valley which had a river running through it and then into the mountain range.

The mountains looked like what you would see in the south of island of New Zealand, it was totally unexpected. There is something to be said about not knowing anything regarding a country before you get there, it’s full of surprises.

The train journey itself was only a few hours, the train itself was an odd collection of different train carts including a bright pink drink which we jumped in. There were couches instead of train seats and they were bolted to the floor, the couches were all-electric blue in colour, it was like being in a lounge room. I took a lot of scenic photos and had a few beers and laughs with my travel companions. It was the first time on a train where I wish the journey could have taken longer.

 

River 

Backpackers lost? Haven’t heard that one before

We reached Sarajevo station, were completely lost, sat around a police station for half an hour on our backpacks, I think the police contacted a hostel owner who came to pick us up and took us. I had a piece of cake for dinner in a bar as all the restaurants were shut and it was around midnight, listened to some live music that sounded like John Lee Hooker, the Sarajevo music festival was on, and then I crashed out.

I slept in as was tired from yesterday and then when was finally awake, walked around the city with the English girls from my room. Sarajevo is located in a valley and was quite large, especially compared to Mostar. It is famous for the Winter Olympics of 1984, the 1914 assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand which started World War 1 if you didn’t know and the siege by Serbian forces from 92 to 95. The city itself isn’t particularly remarkable, however again there are plenty of signs of war with buildings collapsed and also machine gun bullets still imbedded in lots of the walls from the conflict, when I was there indications of the war were still everywhere. Again it is also a mix of Moslem and Christianity and really is quite a friendly place.

Tunneling around 

I decided to do the “Tunnel tour”, this involved a bus ride through “Snipers Alley” (you can guess what that was), large council estate type buildings being lived in riddled with bullet holes, to the airport where the tunnel was located.

Tight

The Bosnians had dug an 880m tunnel at the airport for the smuggling in of weapons and supplies during the siege of Bosnia.

It was very interesting to be in the tunnel and get firsthand information on what it was like during the siege. The tunnel no longer runs under the airport and mostly had been caved in, other items smuggled in included cows apparently.

And the people

The evening involved hanging out with the girls from my room and some Aussie lads I’d met in Mostar two nights before. First of all this involved some local dinner at a kebab shop (lots of Turkish and Austrian – Hungarian food) and then headed to a bar decorated in a pirate theme known as the Pirate bar. After a few ales with my mateys, we then hit a non-themed local’s bar, much cheaper for the locals (and us); this involved plenty of more brews. I socialised with the locals, Bosnians have a funny sarcastic sense of humour which I love. I eventually ended up hanging out and dancing around with a Turkish airline crew that happened to be in the same bar. I finished up at around 4 in the morning as it was time to head off to Serbia.

I was going to Miss Bosnia and really wished I had more time to spend there, lots of history, lovely people, fantastic nature and an amazing two towns.

 

House

Bullet riddled house

 

Belgrade

I got up at around 7, said my goodbyes to the English girls and caught up with the Aussies for the trip to Belgrade in Serbia. I was on my way to Bratislava in Slovakia to meet a friend which was why I was rushing my way out of Bosnia. The bus trip involved an 8 hour journey though the mountainous range separating the two countries, and again, very hot. Unlike the train journey earlier, I wished that the bus trip would end.

After passing more border checks, we reached the former Yugoslavia capital of Belgrade. The size of the city was totally unexpected, I’d been used to small cities with old towns, Belgrade is a massive thriving metropolis of 1 and a half million and not quite what I expected, it was the largest city I’d been to since Riga.

Out and about

I figured on crashing early due to my lack of sleep from being out to late with the airline crew, this however didn’t occur. Upon arrival at the hostel, the Aussies and I headed out to the centre of town for a nice meal. After gorging on some quality Serbian food, we went to the river which had three night clubs on barges; glary neon lights pumping out loud (if somewhat debatable) dance music.

The first barge was playing salsa, lots of guys and girls dancing in rhythm, it was quite intimidating.

salsa

 

We left there after a few and then hit the house music barge next door, this was more intimidating in a certain regard, mainly due to the sheer amount of gorgeous women in the place. Everyone in there was very well dressed, I was wearing a two-day old sweated out UN ironed t-shirt, not a good impression, and we spent the next few hours just staring.

It was kind of like going to a museum and appreciating fine art, the Serbians dressed immaculately, however they weren’t particularly interested in talking with us and after a few hours, tiredness crept in and I wandered off back to the hotel.

A city wander 

I got up early and decided to have a look around the city, it’s amazing, when you add heat and lack of sleep together with alcohol, and you don’t seem to get hangovers. I checked out some buildings that had been bombed from the NATO bombing of Belgrade, as with Bosnia there were lots of ruins though not nearly as noticeable. I then headed up to the castle overlooking the town; it was quite large with excellent views of the city. I also took in the war museum which went through the history of war from the 7th century to World War 1.

Outside there were plenty of tanks and cannons to look at. After that I decided to go to the manmade swimming park on the river Belgrade is landlocked. It was now up to 45 degrees and figured water was necessary before I fainted. 

The swimming park involved a massive fountain in the middle of the river and two-man made beaches opposing each other on both sides , there were thousands of people tanning themselves along the shore. The water was warm as it wasn’t so deep so very pleasant to swim in and a lovely way to spend the afternoon.

Silicon Valley 

That night I headed out to what’s coined as “Silicon Valley”, from what I understand it’s gorgeous and genetically enhanced girls hanging out on a street with guys driving around in expensive sports cars. The idea of it is to try to marry a rich husband.

SV

It was quite an interesting place to people watch, though we got bored after a while, I decided it was time for an Irish bar. I believe I have found the first Irish bar just named “Irish Bar” and indeed it did not serve any cider or more surprisingly, Guinness (not very Irish). I had a few laughs with the other backpackers sitting in the main square but I headed back to the hostel as the night was really starting. The next day I was headed to Slovakia to meet up with a mate who was not a backpacker (a friend having a weekend getaway).

It was quite an interesting place to people watch, though we got bored after a while, I decided it was time for an Irish bar. I believe I have found the first Irish bar just named “Irish Bar” and indeed it did not serve any cider or more surprisingly, Guinness (not very Irish). I had a few laughs with the other backpackers sitting in the main square but I headed back to the hostel as the night was really starting. The next day I was headed to Slovakia to meet up with a mate who was not a backpacker (a friend having a weekend getaway).

It was quite an interesting place to people watch, though we got bored after a while, I decided it was time for an Irish bar. I believe I have found the first Irish bar just named “Irish Bar” and indeed it did not serve any cider or more surprisingly, Guinness (not very Irish). I had a few laughs with the other backpackers sitting in the main square but I headed back to the hostel as the night was really starting. The next day I was headed to Slovakia to meet up with a mate who was not a backpacker (a friend having a weekend getaway).

The reason I went into so much detail over the past five days as these are places that a lot people don’t tend to go to and it’s all very interesting. The hostel owners are very friendly, more so than more popular tourist towns in the East, the places are generally cheaper and the history is fascinating. It’s good to go to a place that wasn’t so well-travelled, though I suppose give it 10 years or more and Bosnia to Serbia will be as commercial as some of the more travelled countries. Another thing, from what I can tell, there really isn’t any hatred between Croatians, Serbs Bosnians, they speak the same language and this rivalry they share back home in Australia doesn’t seem so commonplace there.

 

Slovakia 

I was now in Slovakia to catch with a friend who was visiting me from London. Apart from catching up with my mate, the highlight of Bratislava was meeting Tyson the dog, the pet of the owner of the hostel.

The hostel itself was also excellent, they had one of the best bar set ups I’d seen in such a place, beer taps and a variety of drinks, they also had decorated it in a manner befitting “Hostel” the movie, Bratislava is where the film was set. If you are not familiar with the movie then Google it. There were decapitated manikins, a bath full of blood (coloured water more likely) and various other “creepy” fixtures, it was quite funny. However unlike Hostel the movie where guys pick up girls and then get tortured and murdered, the only real way to die in Bratislava could possibly be of total boredom. Bratislava is a place you can see in a day with activities; however my mate and I were there for four.

Tyson

Tyson, the highlight of Slovakia

 

A night out 

The first evening involved getting absolutely wasted; this was a catch up after all so that’s what happened. We had a few at the hostel bar and then headed into the (yet another) old town, went to the local Irish bar (with Guiness) and had some quality food. We then stumbled about look for an underground bunker nightclub but could not find it. After several cocktails and feeling I quite inebriated, we headed back to the hostel.

The next day involved taking in again the old town which only takes 10 minutes or so and then checking out what I was hoping would be some old Communist buildings, instead turned out to be apartment blocks or a council estate at the end of town. We also checked out the castle on top of the hill, unfortunately the whole thing was being renovated so you couldn’t go in grrrr. There was nothing else to do in the evening so we headed back to the hostel, sampled some fairly ordinary local beer and then found the nightclub in the bunker that we could not find the first night. This involved some annoying “Lady Gaga” music and very rude staff bumping into you and then giving you grief because “you’re in the way”. It was cool however to been in my first former nuclear silo nightclub, we then headed back to the hostel.

The next day we checked out a war monument on top of the hill commemorating World War 2 (at least that wasn’t closed) and then headed out-of-town to a local castle that was only partially closed (better than fully closed), it was quite spectacular and probably the highlight of Bratislava.

 

Vienna (for lunch) 

The following day we decided to head to Vienna for the day, it was about an hour by train and there really wasn’t anything left to see in Bratislava. Vienna was amazing, large palaces, museum buildings, parklands and quality food to go along with it. It was very impressive though a little costly I suppose.

We also took in a couple of museums while we there, the first was an architecture museum that detailed the history of Austrian design from the turn the 20th century till now, very impressive. We also then went to the modern art museum to check out the funny exhibits. There were some art pieces by a guy that used building materials for art, but the most interesting (besides the usual naked people features) was an interpretation of the future, strange looking objects that looked like they were out of a Jetsons cartoon.

Sweet goodbye 

That night we had a few more beers at the hostel, we said our goodbyes to Tyson whom as indicated my personal highlight of Bratislava. goodbye

I had some dinner and then crashed out for the evening.

I suppose I’m giving Bratislava a bit of a bad rap, however 4 days was way too long and after seeing so many amazing places in Eastern Europe and comparing those to this might be a little unfair.

Mind you the rude customer service at both bars and the train station and the constant stuffing up of menu orders left me a little jaded from the experience. It was good to catch up with a mate though and chat about something other than backpacker talk such as “where you’ve been”, “where you going”, “what country are you from”, “are you single” and it had been a while since I’d seen my good friend.

Anyway, I was glad to get out, and now it was off to Budapest, I’d only heard fantastic things about it.

 


The Travel Bug

The Travel Bug is a collaboration project that goes through Dave’s travel journals around the world. We started this series a while back and finished in the Croatia. We’ll be back soon in the Budapest!


DavoDave
 is the Travel Writer of the Travel Bug. He is a Technology specialist by day and social butterfly by night.

He just completed another world trip and is bound to share his tall travel tales shortly.

 

PC @ ThoughtsPC likes getting the job done by day and writes, designs and codes during his spare time. He also enjoys having a drink with Dave and hearing his tall travel tales.

We hope to entertain you through this collection of stories.

 

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