Always watch where you are going. Otherwise, you may step on a piece of the Forest that was left out by mistake.
Towards the end of 2012 I discovered that Busabout did a Tour that goes to Bosnia, Serbia and Bulgaria, I was so excited. I love the history here and watch numerous documentaries and movies on it as well as In The Land of Blood and Honey – a movie directed by Angelina Jolie which was seriously very well done, very graphic and a little disturbing. My mom, however, was not so excited. In fact the look on her fact was horror but she was only worried for my safety and I understood that. I was fully aware of the history and violence in these countries but I needed to explore them. No amount of persuasion on my behalf helped and as much as my mom didn’t want me to go, I went anyways – sorry mom!
Every time I go away, it always starts with an early morning, however this morning was the worst I’ve ever done.
I booked my tour back in December and I booked my flights etc in February. Even though I booked my flights four months in advance there was only one flight left to Split, Croatia on the day I needed. Unfortunately this meant that my flight was at 6am which meant I had to be at the airport two hours before that (4am) and its an hours drive to get to the airport (3am) and half an hour to get ready (2.30am). NEVER AGAIN!!!
I got into Split at about 9.30am local time and I went to check out the place I was staying (Gajeta Apartments); I have to admit that it was actually pretty nice there considering it didn’t cost too much.
The weather was hotter than i expected but this is mainly because I’m so used to London temperatures, I wandered around and sat in the sun for a bit but by 12 I was struggling to stay awake. I managed to wander around Split for a few more hours before finally coming back to the hotel. About 30 minutes after coming back to the hotel a massive storm hit. Torrential rain, hail the size of large marbles, thunder and lightening – the whole works. I’ve never seen anything like it considering it was still 29 degrees outside. Needless to say I stayed put.
The next morning I joined my Busabout Tour. Even at 9am it was unbelievable hot but we set off towards Bosnia.
The drive from Split (Croatia) to Mostar (Bosnia) was beautiful.
When we got into Mostar we had a local guide who was a kid during the war and told us his views on the war. Mostar was even hotter than Split had been and we had to struggle to find shade to stand in while our guide talked to us about Bosnia, the War, Communism and Stari Most (the Bridge in Mostar).
The Stari Most is absolutely beautiful from afar and close up. The Bridge had been standing for 427 years before the Bosnian Croat Forces destroyed it on the 9th of November 1993. We have Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Croatia and the Bosnian Government to thank for funding the reconstruction of this amazing bridge. Along side the funding they actually managed to recover some of the original stones from the river to help with this reconstruction.
We had a spot across from the bridge and the views were spectacular. The water was so blue and the bridge itself was amazing. It stood so high with a tower on each side of the bridge (The Bridge Keepers) and with the weather being as hot as it is I wanted to jump in the water and go swimming, it looked so peaceful and beautiful. We spent an hour here, we got to wander over the bridge and walk through the streets and see the little shops with all their souvenirs and restaurants.
We actually got to see one guy jump off the bridge – the bridge stands about 30 meters above the water. You do have to be a professional to jump off the bridge as there is a certain technique to it, the bridge jumpers try and get the watchers to give tips (you have to pay to jump off the bridge) and they jump in full wet suits. Unfortunately unskilled jumpers do try to jump off this bridge and not all of them make it.
After this we headed off to Sarajevo. It was only a two hour drive but for some reason it seemed so much longer. We got to have free time once we got into Sarajevo before going out for a group dinner. There is a huge market area just down from where we were staying. As Bosnia isn’t a hugely touristy destination the Locals were really friendly and tried to speak some English where they could.
Dinner was pretty average – its pretty stodgy in Eastern Europe; lots of meat and potatoes etc. So dinner was pretty much just a plate of meat. It was actually a large green bell pepper type thing stuffed with mince and rice with lots of gravy. However, Eastern Europe does excel in its desserts, they are extremely sweet so you cant eat a lot (well I cant at least) but they are delicious.
This morning we had a walking tour of Sarajevo with another local guide. Unfortunately I didn’t like this guy much and found that he spoke too fast and his words merged into one so I found it quite difficult to understand him which was a shame as I find this history to be quite fascinating. But we got to walk around Sarajevo which is lovely and we got to see the spot where Franz Ferdinand was assassinated (which wasn’t on the bridge as everyone thinks, it was actually on the corner of the road opposite the bridge.
After our walking tour we hiked up one of the hills to get to the fortress and look out. The walk itself was only about 15-20 minutes but it was also 28+ degrees and the hill was rather steep so it was quite a hike. But we made it to the top and the views over Sarajevo were worth every second. After a short rest and photo stop we then walked back down the hill and crossed the river and climbed up that hill to look at the cemetery that was up there. This hike was worse than the first as we didn’t really know where we were going and the walk was just as steep and hot. When we got there we realized it was a cemetery dedicated to those who lost their lives during the war. Eventually the heat got the better of us so we headed back down and walked through town and bought ice cream. Apparently they make their ice cream out of goats milk which prevents it from melting so quickly in the heat.
This morning was another early start as we say goodbye to Bosnia and head into Serbia.
I liked Bosnia a lot, its a quaint wee city despite its history. I expected Serbia to be very much like Bosnia but its not.
We arrived into Belgrade at about 3.40 where we had a bit of free time before our walking tour.
Belgrade is a lot bigger than Sarajevo so the walking tour felt quite rushed as they tried to fit it all in. I didn’t really feel like I got to see the city but at the same time I wasn’t overly impressed by it either, I much prefer Sarajevo. However, we did go up to the fortress and saw the views of Belgrade which were pretty awesome. After our walking tour we had some free time, so i stopped for the usual postcards and got some ice cream, omg the ice cream was pretty amazing.
Tonight we had a group dinner – my food was yummy! I had a large dried paprika (seriously, if you get a chance to eat a dried paprika (not the ground spice) try it, its yummy) stuffed with a light mince. It wasn’t stodgy like it had been everywhere else. It was really good! After dinner we went on a pub crawl. To be honest, I wish i hadn’t bothered as I was so bored, but oh well.
Another early start this morning as we head into Sofia, Bulgaria. However, on the way into Sofia we stopped at a wee town called Niš (pronounced Niche) in Serbia. There wasn’t much here but we did get to walk around the markets and the fortress. Then it was off to the Serbian Border Control so we could exit Serbia and then into the Bulgarian Border Control so we can enter Bulgaria. For this, we actually had to walk through but we did get our passports stamped which is the main thing. After getting our passports stamped we then set off for Sofia. On our way we encountered the most craziest storms ever. Thunder, lightening and so much rain our driver had to move at a snails pace down the motor way. I’ve no idea how he drove through it, when you looked out the window it was white with a sheet of rain coming down.
Unfortunately the rain meant that we had to postpone our walking tour of Sofia until the morning.
Tonight we had another group dinner. This time it was a Gypsy Dance Night. The food was huge platters of meat and breads and dips which was delicious and nice to have something other than just stodgy meat and over boiled vegetables. The gypsy dancing was quite cool though, it was a mixture of Belly Dancing, Irish Dancing and Russian Dancing.
Thankfully the rain held off and we got up early to do our walking tour of Sofia.
We managed to see the Court of Justice and we walked through the Presidents residency (the out side of the building, not the inside), it actually has old Roman Ruins out in the court yard. We saw a stunning Russian Church (St Nicholas) and finished off at the Alexander Nevski Cathedral which was spectacular from the outside (not so much from the inside).
Because we had to move the walking tour to this morning we were very short on time, so we had to take a taxi back to the hotel so we could leave and head to Plovdiv. I have to admit, I’ve never heard of this place before so I had no idea what to expect from it. However, I actually really enjoyed it.
Again we went on a walking tour when we got in and we saw the remains of the Roman Stadium and we also saw the Ancient Theater. We then wandered through the old town up to the ancient fortress which looks out over the city. We then had free time to do our own thing. So we headed out to the post office via the main shopping street so Sarah and Steph could post some thing. This proved to be not only interesting but hilarious too.
The lady serving us spoke next to no English and we spoke no Bulgarian. However a guy who was next in line helped out trying to translate for us. He then left and we were given more forms to fill out and the lady was trying to tell us what needed to be written and we were trying to guess then about 3 or 4 Bulgarian people in the queue shouted out in English what the lady was trying to tell us. Thankfully we all found it funny. After our post office experience we wandered back to our hotel via the Monument Unification of Bulgaria. This is a statue of the “Mother Country” with the laurel wreath of Victory stretched into the air with her two wings representing the two regions ‘Bulgaria’ and ‘Eastern Rumelia’ brought together. Its a beautiful statue.
This morning we set off for Istanbul, Turkey. It was a long drive as we set off at about 8.30 and didn’t get there until about 4. First we had to go through the Bulgarian Border patrol for our exit stamps and then through the Turkey Border Patrol. In Turkey most people need visa’s even for a short term visit. However, I Googled this before leaving (actually, I was Googling about the riots in Taksim Square and found this information by accident) and found that Kiwi’s don’t need a visa – this was a good thing as it cost the Aussies €45!!! However, we did get a stamp in our passports so I was happy.
We eventually got into Istanbul and even though we had thunder lightening and rain on the way in, it was actually quite hot by the time we got in. Turkey doesn’t allow Busabout (or anyone who isn’t local) to do guided walking tours but Caitlyn took us to the main sites to point them out. I spent the afternoon wandering around the Grand Bazaar. I liked this, but at the same time I didn’t. I liked the markets, seeing all the beautiful lights and scarves, leathers, furs and bits and pieces, but i hate the thought of having to haggle for a decent price and hated the fact that shop owners would come up to you saying “i need your money, please buy something” or “I need your heart, you need my heart” to try and convince you to buy something. Its just not my kinda thing. But most of the people were so friendly. After the Grand Bazaar we went and saw the Blue Mosque which is absolutely stunning from across the grass area, up close it wasn’t quite so beautiful until you get inside. To get inside you have to have your head covered (thank god i had my scarf in my bag), be wearing clothing that covers your knees and you have to remove your shoes. This is all fine, until you get inside and it smells of bad feet, but the ceiling inside is breath-taking.
Again, we had another group dinner as this was our last night as a group. We had Turkish Kababs and Narghile (Shisha or Sheesha or Hookah depending who you are and how you want to spell it). I didn’t really know what to expect to be honest, Id never done it before and i hate the smell of it, but you know, when in Rome (or Turkey as the case may be). It was okay I guess, but not my thing. However, I can say I’ve done it.
The next day, the tour went their separate ways. Some of us stayed at the hostel, some moved to different ones, some left for other cities. I stayed at the hostel, however I booked a private room for my last night. When I got up in the morning it was pouring with rain, so I kind of just pottered about in the open restaurant (which is attached to the hostel) and drunk Apple Tea (which is delicious and doesn’t taste anything like tea which is why I was drinking it). In the afternoon I went for a walk around the shops, grab something to eat and that was pretty much it. The next day I headed back to London.
I thoroughly enjoyed this tour. There was so much history to learn which I loved and Caitlyn was an awesome tour guide.
Photos are HERE