The long awaited trip to Balkans had finally come and after sleepless nights spent by finishing up my master thesis it was again the time to give my wanderlust its deserved pleasure.
We had arranged (R)Erasmus meeting with our friend who is currently staying in Vukovar, Croatia for a volunteering program and then, since we are in Balkans, take a rented car for a road trip through Bosnia and Herzegovina all the way down to Montenegro coast. We set up our starting and finishing point in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, which has become a great entrance to explore Balkan culture. I admit I was little worried about a composition of my travel companions that were four girls including well-known Erasmus friends from Slovakia, Poland and Basque country (not Spain!) and unknown colleague from Czech Republic with Vietnamese origins. Truly international group of travelers. Still hear that question from a police officer at the Bosnian borders while me driving asking me where I’m heading with them. Well, here is my insight into our Balkan adventure followed with the map and my photos.
The night bus and war memories
I started to feel Balkan right after entering the bus with a big sign Beograd on its side. Serbian drivers are masters in casual customer service taking care more about their cigarettes than passengers. But you don’t expect hospitality and kindness on the night bus going from the European Union dreamland to former Yugoslavia. So after a 12-hours ride full of nicotine pit stops and sleepy roads we arrived two hours earlier than scheduled time. Maybe it was because of the small cup full of change and banknotes collected by passengers to make the customs control at the Hungarian borders much more shorter. Belgrade was still asleep, except a small park close to the bus station packed by homeless people and refugees who have settled there down and changed the park into the camp. After waiting for the sun, having burek for breakfast, meeting our Basque friend and long negotiation with rental companies, we finally managed to be on the road heading to Vukovar in beautiful Saturday morning to meet our last companion.
Vukovar is known for its suffering during Balkan wars in ’90s. The city was destroyed when one of the first big battles between Serbs and Croats was held here in 1991. The majestic water tower which survived many attacks stands silently above many damaged houses you can still see in the city. This place full of war memories will keep you humble and glad that we live in peace. After the nice sunny afternoon and fabulous Croatian ice cream we stayed over the night to rest before 500 kilometers ride to Montenegro.
Don’t expect any four-line highways in Bosnia, that’s what we were told the night before. Simple truth, just keep your time when you plan to explore these lands which were left in poverty after the wars. Due to our packed plan we skipped visiting Sarajevo and kept going straight to Mostar.
Gems of medieval Bosnia
The way between Sarajevo and Mostar was found as a pure enjoyment for our eyes and we stopped many times to see beautiful unknown lakes and mountains, to explore calm hidden villages and to take a look at another symbol of war, at this time of World War II, which is fallen railway bridge above the river Neretva that was recreate for some movie later on.
As planned we arrived to Mostar, Bosnian center of tourism to check countless souvenir shops and fancy restaurants. Must be said this medieval town is magnificent especially for its bridge (most) as a main attraction. The typical piece of Balkan cuisine called ćevapčići filled us for next hours in the car.
Before we got to Kotor in Montenegro we stopped at the most mystical place in whole Balkans, at least for me. Počitelj, medieval village with small houses and tiny streets on the hill with the mosque in the middle and the old fortress right above. I could stay there for hours just to experience its special atmosphere, minimum tourists and old ladies selling candied fruits for one euro. Unfortunately, time passed to late afternoon so we sped up to Trebinje which was our last quick stopover before the borders of Montenegro and seaside Kotor. Driving to find a parking spot nearby our old town hostel was one of my unforgettable driver experience. Nevertheless, we got at our destination on time, ready to rest, absorb Bosnian memories and wake up into the great summer day by sea.
It seemed like in a fairy tale to walk in the old town of Kotor streets for pedestrians only. Promenades with palms make you feel even more relaxed and when you add summer temperature in May, no more worries are left in you mind.
I climbed to Kotor fortress for stunning views on the bay. Must be said that three euros charge was worth it, I’m just wondering where three euros from hundreds of tourists on the daily basis go. For sure not for the roads leading to forgotten parts of Montenegro. We left Kotor behind heading to National Park Lovćen up to the mountains and I will never forget steep climbing with curves turning that one can see his neck. After many steep kilometers we stayed speechless to see the big bus parked on the top of the hill. That’s called Balkan driving skills. The Mauzoleum and its stony yard built on the top of Jezerski vrh was simply gorgeous piece of peace. Naps highly recommended. The way down was even more exiting for driver’s experience and since we decided to go to Bar and see Skadarsko Jezero on the way we were reliant on lowest class roads shrank between steep mountains and surrounded by dense forests. Suddenly, an unknown cute village called Rijeka Crnojevića appeared in the front which was considered to be kind of oasis worth a visit. Road was still horrible but slow and careful ride was later rewarded by amazing views on Skadarsko Lake that is a part of borders so we could actually see lands of unkind Albania far away. Another hours of driving went by and we finally arrived in Bar where I took the finest sunset photo ever.
The last ride
We decided to skip going to the bar in Bar and in the morning of day number three we said goodbye to the coast of Montenegro and focused on our long trip back to the heart of Serbia. Through the ugliest capital city Podgorica, where I got fined but also got lucky with yes, it’s our first time in Montenegro following by nice respond okay, good luck, you can go. We kept our direction back to Bosnia for the last stop in Višegrad.
The great competitor for Sarajevo-Mostar road surrounded by beautiful nature was met between Nikšić and Bosnian Foča. High peaks of National Park Durmitor and Pivsko jezero along the way made this part of the trip seriously remarkable. A little variegation was waiting for us behind Bosnian borders, two bulldozers that were making the road online despite traffic. Must wait and feel Bosnia. Višegrad with its nice bridge over the Drina river and fake old town in whatever royal style built by famous director Emir Kosturica left another special memory of the Balkans. Should be noted we didn’t get in touch with many people during our stay and that’s why the kind waiter in Višegrad was a bright moment of experiencing Balkan culture and people. That is one of the reasons why I prefer to travel alone. It forces you to interact way more and same applies to locals.
Pulsing streets of Belgrade waited for us until the late evening and the end of the trip was almost there. Lazy morning and day with the last burek for a breakfast, salad with Balkan cheese for lunch and couple of summer beers for good mood left me thinking about visiting Balkan as soon as possible again. As I said to my friends, you can try to offer me a free tour of Paris, I will thank you saying no and stay longing for the east.
Find map of the trip here: http://bit.ly/balkan-trip-on-googlemaps