In the last week I went from couchsurfing to hostel-hopping down the Dalmatian coast, couches seem to be comparatively scarce in the Balkans as opposed to the west so I switched to hostel dorm beds. Now that I frequent hostel common rooms I’ve started meeting many backpackers, some on the road for 6 months already while others are just on holiday for two weeks. When I talk with fellow hostel-goers I’ve found that there is a specific set of cities that are a must-see in the Balkans. A few days and a few hundred kilometers later when you enter the next hostel surprise! you see the same group of backpackers, plus or minus a few Canadians.
I was shocked by the inordinate number of Canadians to Americans traveling in the Balkans, considering Canada’s population in comparison to the USA. I don’t mind in the least, the people I met have been very nice at worst and awesome at best. The only Americans I’ve met have been studying abroad or long-term travelers, no one on a short trip from the USA as it’s not a common vacation destination. Why is that? What I’ve seen of the Balkans is beautiful and fascinating; there’s plenty to do if you like hiking, museums, islands, beaches, wine, parties, and history. Cruise ships fill the ports so you can come by boat if that’s your thing. It’s close to Greece, Turkey, Germany and many other tourist spots, and it is much cheaper than western Europe.
There is a rich history here, from the Ottoman Empire to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the formation and dissolution of Yugoslavia, and life after the war. I spent a very interesting afternoon in Sarajevo on a history tour, learning about the ancient history of the Balkans, the Bosnian war, and the fragile peace that continues today. But the day-to-day life in Sarajevo is made up of small cups of coffee with coffee grinds at the bottom and people playing giant chess in the park. Next to old buildings with bullet holes are shopping centers playing pop music with riverside cafes. The charming old town sells the typical tourist souvenirs along cobblestone roads where visitors can eat local foods like baklava and bureks.
In the last two weeks I have visited many of the popular destinations and I would recommend them to any traveler: Ljubljana in Slovenia; Zagreb, Zadar and Dubrovnik in Croatia; Kotor in Montenegro; Mostar and Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I’ve also wandered off the tourist path to explore the hills of Kotor, the countryside of Sarajevo, the seaside of the Adriatic. It’s been a marvelous week and I hope to visit the rest of the Balkans before I leave the region.
Another recent change is that I’ve been traveling with a few lovely women that I met in the last week. While in Dubrovnik I met Sophie (French-Canadian) and Bethany (Australian) on the island Lokrum, and after an afternoon of hiking and an evening of Croatian food we decided to continue to Montenegro together. Once in Montenegro I met Ming (Chinese, living in Germany) and she joined Sophie and I as we went to Bosnia and Herzegovina. After all these weeks of traveling independently I was honestly a bit worried I wouldn’t be able to travel with other people but it has been wonderful to share the adventures.
One adventure has been the border crossings, and there have been many. Last Thursday morning I met Bethany and we took the bus to Kotor in Montenegro, a beautiful bay side town surrounded by steep mountains on three sides. The two hour bus ride increased to three hours when we spent an hour at the border between Croatia and Montenegro for seemingly no reason, but I had company so it passed quickly.
The weather was quite rainy this week and it was a rainy afternoon when we arrived, but we still explored the old town of Kotor and hiked up to the fortress overlooking the old town. As we walked on the uneven cobblestones and tried not to slip on the wet stones, I realized that while Dubrovnik was lovely it is much more polished. I prefer an old town to look, well, old. Crumbling is okay, some rust and age is fine by me. It looks more authentic when it hasn’t been reconstructed multiple times since the original but that’s just my preference. The next day was a little rainy but much clearer so I hiked with Ming to the Austro-Hungarian fortress watching over the bay of Kotor and the Adriatic Sea.
After a downpour during our exit from Kotor, Sophie, Ming and I headed to Mostar by way of Dubrovnik which involved 4 border crossings, a new personal record. After two rainy days in Mostar, Sophie and I took the 7am train from to Sarajevo on a fellow backpackers recommendation and the scenery was stunning. I shamelessly hung out the window snapping pictures and soaking up the views.
It’s been a change of pace to travel this past week with companions and now it will change again, Sophie and Ming have moved on and I’m on my own again. Not that I mind at all, it’s just a different experience.
Categories: Bosnia and Herzegovina