So far we have had eight wonderful stress free days. That is what I love most about a Bus Tour. All the planning is done for you. We just wake up in the morning, and if it is a day when we are on the move, it is just a matter of getting our bag out the Hotel room door by around 7.30am, and from then on our main task is following the Tour Directors instructions. We visit the best tourist attractions, the entry fee is included in the tour cost, and most days the lunch and/or the evening meal is also included. We get the most information possible about every town and attraction that we are visiting, we get guided tours through the towns, and we also get enough free time to discover a few things by ourselves.
The walk around the wall at Dubrovnik was something we chose to do, and it proved a great decision. Other people from our tour decided to take the gondola up the hill at Dubrovnik and see the views from that super high position. They came back with great reports as well.
During the day we selected an add on tour to a nearby town called Cavtat. A lovely little seaside town that has a half hour walk around the little beaches. The little township was the place for us to have our lunches at a restaurant of our choice.
The day was beautiful and hot and there were several people enjoying a swim in the warm Adriatic sea. As we walked around I remembered the wonderful feeling that I felt from diving off a boat and swimming in the Mediterranean Sea at The Isle of Capri last year on our ‘Grand tour of Italy and Sicily’. Judy Teresa and I sat with our feet dangling in the sea, savouring the moment, when the decision was made that we would have a swim in the Adriatic!
The swim was fantastic! We ate lunch sitting in our clothes with wet underwear underneath but it didn’t matter in the least. The experience was enough to put up with any discomfort.
That evening we went out for a dinner cruise off Dubrovnik. A few others from the tour (and us three as well) were going to go for a another swim. This time jumping off the boat. The only reason why we didn’t was the fact the there was no ladder, the boat sat high up in the water, and the crew was going to have to pull us back onto the boat! It was hard enough for me to get back up on land from the swim earlier in the day. I couldn’t imagine getting my body dragged up the side of the boat and try to look glamorous as well, so I decided against it. So did the others!
We left Dubrovnik and sailed to a very still bay and had a super meal together. It was such a treat.
What a fabulous evening, and we all slept peacefully and with such happy memories of the day.
Dubrovnik is what George Bernard Shaw described as ‘Paradise on Earth’. I personally had never heard of the place, but having now seen it, I will never forget it. Imagine an old town with stone paved streets, houses down each side and all looking similar, and the whole place encircled with high stone walls and 16th century bastions. Then imagine a narrow path on top of the wall where you can walk around the town and look down on the roofs and streets. And then adding to the picture in your mind, put the whole place along the seafront. Can you picture it?
The walls run almost 2 km around the city. They are from four to six meters thick on the landward side but are much thinner on the seaward side. The system of turrets and towers were intended to protect the vulnerable city. The walls of Dubrovnik have also been a popular filming site for HBO’s Game Of Thrones for the fictional city of Kings Landing.
The moment we arrived at the city gates we were in awe!
As you can gather walking around Dubrovnik was an awesome experience. What you can’t see from the photos was the even smaller streets going off in all directions and all the little shops about the place. The walk around the wall was definitely the highlight of the day though. The roof tops and the distant views were wonderful.
Now prepare yourself. There are way too many photos, but they were all so good I couldn’t take any out. If you want a better look at a photo just click on it and it will open up as a bigger photo…. it may take a while to load though…. but will be worth it 🙂
Yes I know…. way too many photos. I did say I couldn’t delete any as they are all amazing! Thank goodness we have super Cameras to record these moments for us all to enjoy over and over again.
I have a short video of Dubrovnik for you to look at! Enjoy 🙂
Okay… so here is a map to show you where we now, well for this blog post anyway. We started at Budapest, traveled down to Belgrade, then onto Sarajevo and now we arrive at Mostar.
Our final destination for the day was to be Dubrovnik. We had already stopped at Jablanica, and for lunch we were to have a very special treat. Not only great food but a fantastic place to eat as well.
Facebook has a page called ‘Places to see before you die’ and I often see pictures of places and things that I think would be just amazing to visit and see with my own eyes. About six months earlier I saw a photo of a very high bridge and the surrounding town looked very old. I tagged Judy (my sister) on the photo and wrote “I wonder if we will get to see this place?” Well… Mostar was that place, and yes! This was our lunch destination. I was so excited and very happy. When you see the photos you will understand why!
The beautiful white stone bridge had stood since the Ottoman Turks had built it in 1566. In November, 1993, it was blown up during the Bosnian war, but as it was a World Heritage site, it was fully restored and finished in 2004.
At the top of the arch of the bridge two handsome and tanned men stood collecting money from tourists in the dare that if they got a sufficient amount, they would jump. The Neretva river is such that the deepest and safest place to jump was a very small area. So the excitement that the men would build before they jumped the 70 feet into the water, was part of their act and of entertaining the tourists. I think they hoped we would all pay more for another jump!
The little town itself was spectacular enough. It would still be worth the visit even without the bridge jump! A narrow stone road led to the bridge which has the largest stone arch span of 28 metres. Along each side of the road were little shops selling colourful silks, weaved fabric, copper articles, souvenirs and lace.
We had so many restaurants to chose from but decided on one that overlooked the river. Eating our lunch while looking at the bridge and the amazing view the area offered was definitely a ‘pinch me’ moment. I couldn’t believe we were lucky enough to be at that very spot!
On a serious note though, the young girl who showed us our seats at our restaurant has lived in Mostar all her life, she was 17. I said to her that she must be delighted to live in such a pretty town. Her response was that there was no work available, only the tourist trade and she didn’t get full time work at that. She also said that it was very seasonal work and for much of the year they had no income. And she couldn’t get an opportunity to advance herself without money or education. Tugged at my heart strings I can tell you! The town also still bears the wounds from the Bosnia war and many buildings still needed repair.
I loved Mostar! I hope that you can get an idea of how amazing it is by the photos. If you click on the photo you will get a larger view. They take awhile to upload as they are very good quality, but worth it for a better picture.
Well Jablanica wasn’t our final destination for the day but was a great place to stop for a walk and visit through the museum.
During the Battle of the Neretva in 1943, Jablanica was the site of a successful raid by a group of Partisans led by Josip Broz Tito. A rail bridge over the river was blown up while a train was in the middle of crossing. There is a park and monument commemorating this action at the site. The bridge section and the locomotive which can still be seen in the river gorge are the remains of a film set depicting the battle, from the 1960s.
As soon as we got off the bus we were met by Gypsy beggars. It’s very sad to see so many people that are really struggling to survive. Rubbish was never a problem in the past for this area but with society changing to using more plastic containers and bags, the gypsys have begun a trade as rubbish collectors. We didn’t see them doing this so much at Jablanica, but we did see horse drawn carts in other towns and being filled with rubbish.
Before we got back on the bus we all wandered through the local market. Fresh fruit and veges, cheeses and believe it not stalls like a families garage sale… used clothing and furniture etc., were all being sold.
All too soon it was back on the bus and on the road to the next city. For those of us who had never been to Mostar before, we were in for a real treat. One amazing place I tell you!
You would think that we had already had a very good overview of Sarajevo buy reading my previous Blog post, but no…. there is more! The next part of our visit was just the best! We chose to do this add on tour right at the start of the holiday purely because of the write up on the ‘Insight Vacations’ brochure… And we weren’t disappointed. It was a very memorable experience and the food was delicious!
SARO6 HOME HOSTED DINNER
A unique and rewarding in sight into the local way of life.
Small groups of 5 or 6 guests are invited into a Sarajevan
family home for a welcome drink and dinner. Savour the
warm hospitality and authentic cuisine as you hear
inspirational stories about their culture and recent
struggles. Dinner is typical of the region, usually soup,
stuffed vegetables and kebabs. Wine, beer, or fruit juice is
also included. Coffee or tea with baklava is served for
Only 24 of us chose this experience and we all thought it was one of the best experiences we had had so far this tour. It was the easiest way to discover exactly what life was like for the average Sarajevan citizen during the four years of the Bosnian war from 1992-1996, and also what their everyday life is like now!
Now! None of us should ever moan about our living conditions or the size of our house. We New Zealanders are extremely spoilt (well the majority are anyway). We usually have separate houses with two or three bedrooms (maybe more), and with a grassed lawn area in front and behind. Some of us live in apartments or blocks of flats but they are usually still quite roomy and very comfortable. Our host family have lived in their one bedroom, very small apartment for 35 years! the couple brought up their three children there! Two boys and a girl! can you imagine two very active little boys growing up with no room to run around and play? I had four sons and I know that they need space for getting rid of energy and they also make lots of noise! The husband was working night shift as a customs officer, and the daughter who lives at home still with her two young sons, was at work also. So the mother not only cooked, was our hostess for the evening, but also looked after her two grandsons as well! What an amazing lady! She smiled the whole time and didn’t appear stressed at all! And the boys demanded her attention very often!
You can see that we are sitting in the dining room, at the table, ready to start our dinner. What you can’t see is that the chairs are right up against the wall. The door to the left leads to a small lounge room. This is also the bedroom for the daughter and her two sons (the daughter is recently divorced and has moved back home). At the entrance is a very small hallway which has the one bedroom to the right and the bathroom to the left. The door behind our host leads to her very narrow tiny kitchen. It has the sink bench (with dishwasher….yay) one side and fridge and stove on the other. The doors open back onto the fridge and the stove! Arghhhh…. what a kitchen to work in! and for 35 years! How does she do it????? The kitchen also leads out to a very tiny deck which as she explained to us is used for drying washing and also storage! But she served us the most delicious meal!
During the war years our host family had young children including a baby. She told us that there was no easy access to running water and washing nappies was a major problem. Sickness was also a huge challenge. Natural remedies were often the only medicine available and that people just adjusted lives to the situation they were in. The neighbours all knew and supported each other and rallied together to help meet each others needs. They also shared in each others sorrows when family members or friends were either killed or injured in the war. They became very practical and would use any available ground for growing vegetables and mostly ate what they grew. The staple diet was rice provided by the UN, and Nera said that after four years of eating rice, she chooses to avoid rice at every occasion nowdays! The interesting thing was that as a child Nera said that war for her was a fun time. She didn’t attend school the whole four years and her game of choice was collecting the empty gun shells along with all her friends!
After our fabulous meal and very informative conversation, it was time to get back to the Hotel. The exiting experience very exciting. We were 12 floors up and the lift just simply didn’t come, no matter how many times we pushed the button! So the decision was to walk down, and that is also very normal for the inhabitants of this housing building. The light is a timed light and we had to push the button at each floor because if you didn’t, the whole stair well would be in complete darkness! This happened on our first lot of stairs as we were all talking. Nera felt her way to the next switch in darkness while we stood in shock as it was so dark! And they have lived here for 35 years!!!!!
We all need to remember the living situations of others less fortunate and be so very thankful for all we have. Never take our life for granted! We are extremely blessed!
Now describing our time in Sarajevo is going to be very emotional for me! Talk about a city that has suffered so much destruction!
The whole city is still covered in scars and those are the visual ones. I believe the people are still learning to live with the consequences of the war, and those scars that it left are not so visual! Our local tour guide Nera was only seven when the war started and she shared many of her experiences with us. She remembered eating only pasta, rice, and American rations, no salt or sugar for 4 years.
Sarajevo is the capital and largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The city is nestled within the greater Sarajevo valley of Bosnia, it is surrounded by the Dinaric Alps and situated along the Miljacka River. Unfortunately it’s position in the valley made it easy for the Serb forces to surround it, and very difficult for the people to protect themselves and also to get out safely.
The Bosnian War for independence lasted from the 5th of April 1992 to the 29th of February 1996. The city’s residents endured 175 artillery shells falling each and every day! During the siege, 11,541 people lost their lives, including over 1,500 children. An additional 56,000 people were wounded, including nearly 15,000 children. How extremely sad 🙁
From our hotel window we could see the surrounding mountains and sensed a little of how vulnerable Sarajevo was.
We commenced our Sarajevo discovery with a walking tour through the old city. Narrow marbled streets with little shops, cafes and restaurants, and churches of every denomination.
A Quote from Wikipedia…
“The city is famous for its traditional cultural and religious diversity, with adherents of Islam, Judaism and Catholicism Orthodoxy, coexisting there for centuries. Due to this long and rich history of religious and cultural variety, Sarajevo was sometimes called the “Jerusalem of Europe”or “Jerusalem of the Balkans”. It was, until recently in the 20th century, the only major European city to have a mosque, Catholic church, Orthodox church and synagogue within the same neighborhood”.
Along the pavement through the city are plaques with red paint splattered on them to show the ‘rivers of blood’ that ran down the streets ! A memorial of lives lost fighting for this nation!
We stopped at a local restaurant for lunch and sampled some of the local food. Little mincemeat sausages in a bread like a panini and served with a yoghurt drink. They were actually very nice.
We wandered further and then were given a Turkish coffee each to sample. It was very strong with all the coffee grindings at the bottom…. almost like sand!
During our stay in Sarajevo we also went out to the historic site of the Sarajevo Tunnel – Known as the ‘Tunnel of life’. Wikipedia describes this tunnel far better than I can…
“The Sarajevo Tunnel was constructed between May 1992 and November 1995, during the Siege of Sarajevo in the midst of the Bosnian War. It was built by the Bosnian Army in order to link the city of Sarajevo, which was entirely cut-off by Serbian forces, with Bosnian-held territory on the other side of the Sarajevo Airport, an area controlled by the United Nations. The tunnel linked the Sarajevo neighbourhoods of Dobrinja and Butmir, allowing food, war supplies, and humanitarian aid to come into the city, and people to get out. The tunnel became a major way of bypassing the international arms embargo and providing the city defenders with weaponry”
My niece Teresa, who was on the tour with us had just finished reading the book ‘Goodbye Sarajevo’ (by Atka Reid and Hana Schofield). Everything we saw there just meant so much more to her as the events of the war are well described in the book. I was so impressed with her knowledge that I downloaded the book on my Kindle and started reading it straight away. I have finished reading it now and highly recommend it as a ‘Must read book’. Please comment this post and let me know what you think about it once you have read it too 🙂 Of course a trip to Sarajevo completes it nicely 🙂
We also experienced a meal with a local family….. but that is another story and a great one at that! Sarajevo part two will follow 🙂
While in Belgrade we went out to a place called Oplenac. We climbed a steep hill to see the amazing St George’s Church known also as Oplenac Church and Oplenac Mausoleum, it is the Mausoleum of the Serbian and Yugoslav Royal House of Karadordevic located on top of the Hill Oplenac in the city of Tolopa, Serbia. The Foundation in Oplenac is named after King Peter 1 of Yugoslavia. Our guide Milos filled us in on the history of the place. I got lost in the details! but I also got lost in the magnificance of the place. The inside was just amazing! I’m sure the photos won’t do it justice…. but I have to share the place with you somehow!
Now after seeing this amazing place we went to visit the home of King Peter. Milos told us heaps of the history but I was lost in thought. I couldn’t get my mind of the fabulous church we had just visited! I guess I am way more stimulated by the visual rather than by listening to someone talk!
We finished off the lovely day with a superb meal together.
So now you can see why Topola, Serbia deserved it’s own blog post! Isn’t it just amazing! I hope you are inspired to go see it for yourself one day 🙂
After a fabulous Hotel breakfast it was on the bus to travel to Belgrade. One of our longer bus trips of the tour. Nearly all day travelling!
Our first stop was at Palic, Serbia. We all wandered down a long walkway towards the lake . Our tour director gave us a little information on the area and then it was free time and lunch. We dined at a lovely cafe in which the host thought we would like to finish with free drinks all round. Very kind but as the bus had strict leaving times, we were very rushed to finish.
Soon we were back on the bus travelling past many unfinished houses and many more very run down homesteads. We got the feeling that we were now in a very poor country. Much different from our tour of Italy last year. We began to wonder about the statement our tour director said when he introduced himself at Budapest. He said that the tour of the Balkans was the tour most people did after they had done all the rest of the Insight Vacations tours. He said it would be very different… but still a great tour. This is definitely very different. We almost felt it was like a third world country.
As we arrived in Belgrade (the capital of Serbia and also the largest city) we began to see the evidence of war from the Kosovo conflict. Many buildings that suffered from bombings still sitting exactly like they had just been hit. Apparently they are historic sites and cannot be pulled down and rebuilt very easily. So they remain as eyesores for all, and a constant reminder of the unrest of the past.
We travelled on to view the fortress of Kalemegdan with our local guide filling us in on the history of Serbia.
We walked through the park and ended up at the outskirts of Belgrade township. Our tour guide explained the horrendous issues with money that Serbia has had over the years. Even now for NZ $1, you would get Serbia Dinar $78. Or for Euro $1, you would get Serbia Dinar $119. Serbian money had no value. In fact the values of the notes became higher and higher! We were shown some of the old currency, and then our tour director David gave us a 500 Billion bank note each. These can be brought for $3 Euro purely as a souvenir as they are no longer part of the local currency…. but they were!
The next couple of hours was free time for us to discover Belgrade on foot. Such a lovely town (apart from the damaged buildings!)
We also visited the white marble Saint Sava Serbian Orthodox Church, which will require at least 15 more years to complete. Even the mosiacs in the church were painted canvas strung up until the real mosiacs are finished. Only one is actually complete, but not really on show yet.
While in Belgrade we went on an extra excursion to Topola. I’m going to do a separate blog post about this place. It deserves it’s own set of photos. Hopefully you have enjoyed looking at our little trip to Belgrade. Serbia is certainly an interesting country!
We went on a ‘add on’ tour to the little town of Szentendre. Szentendre is a riverside town in Pest county, and it has become a popular destination for tourists staying in Budapest. It is such a cute place filled with old buildings, souvenier shops and restaurants. We went on a walking tour with a very informative guide, and were then left to find a restaurant for lunch, and to meet after lunch at our bus.
During our time in Szentendre we visited The Mikro Csodak museum. This museum contained artwork of Mikola Szjadrisztij. His artwork consists of tiny, tiny carvings which are seen with microscope lenses. Pictures above each item explain what they are and what they are made of in several languages, including English. It was fascinating looking at the carvings. Robin managed to get a photo of one through the microscope.
We found a lovely restaurant down by the river. The tour director always gave us an hour to an hour and a half for lunch. Sadly the restaurants always used most of the time up in preparation and we needed to rush the eating to get back to the bus on time. At Szentendre we finished eating only five minutes before we were meant to be back at the bus. Len likes to walk slowly after eating so he left a little earlier. When we all got back to the bus, there was no Len! Oh my goodness the panic then started! Robin, Judy and Teresa went off in different directions. The decision was for the four of them to catch a taxi back to Budapest once they had found Len. Our tour guide suggested I stay on our bus so the others would fit in one taxi. As we were about to leave another Insight Vacations bus was seen to be at Szentendre and the tour director was asked if they could transport Len, Judy, teresa and Robin back to Budapest once Len was found. They had one hour to find him!
I sat on our bus waiting for a message that Len was found. Which he was, and eventually we all had a very happy but emotional reunion back in Budapest. What a worrying experience it was. Thankfully Len was okay and just a misjudgement in the walking route taken. We were all so worried it was a health issue. It was a wake up call for all of us. We all need to appreciate our loved ones and friends. Without them life just wouldn’t be the same.
Let’s pretend this is still the 30th of August and our 17 day tour of the Balkans is just starting! Yes… I am way behind in my blog posts! It’s the 9th of October and I have been in London nearly a month! To be honest it has taken nearly all this time to sort through the photos. I have Judy’s, Robin’s and my photos on my hard drive and have been trying to pick the best of the three to put on this blog. I hope I have done okay 🙂
We met out fellow travelling buddies in the Hotel foyer and then wandered down the road a little to a lovely restaurant for our first meal together.
The first morning we were up bright and early to start our bus tour of Budapest. We started on the flat area of Pest…
We then headed up to the Hilly Buda part of Budapest. The views from here were spectacular. Shame it was nearly raining as we were out and about taking our photos. I have been here before and blogged some better photos if you look in my archives. It was a beautiful sunny then (just over a year ago). It did actually start to rain just after we got our tour group photo taken. Only a few of us had rain gear!
That evening Teresa and I went down to the riverside as we had heard there was a memorial there from war times…. around 1945
We finished off the day with a dinner cruise on the Danube river. The food was yummy and the views fabulous.
Well once again Budapest proved a fantastic place to visit. The photos don’t really do the place justice. I hope I never forget the wonder of seeing Budapest in person. A real treat to see 🙂
Finally I will add a photo of our tour group (thanks to Hammie)
We travel from Budapest, Hungary and finish at Bucharest, Romania. I aim to put a blog post up for each of the 17 days of our tour, along with some of the best photos…. hopefully. Enjoy 🙂