It was Inna’s birthday, and her choice of destination. Between Italy, Uk and Croatia, she picked the latter. We decided to have a quick look at near sea cities, and as a part of return route I squeezed in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The plan was to be very mobile and see as much as we can in a limited time we had. We spend only a night per each city (Split, Dubrovnik, Sarajevo) — with stops in between (Zadar, Mostar, Banja Luka), needless to say, this was a marathon.
The truth is, to see absolutely every church and street might be a bit, well, dry for people of our age. Perhaps when we’ll be twice the age, we’ll come back and be more static.
In a way, this was a taste to see which cities return to and take a bigger bite of in the future, though, I don’t think anytime soon, as there’s a lot of other places to explore in this world.
With all this said, the trip was interesting, energetic, emotional, colorful and memorable.
Zadar, Split (Day 1, 8th June)
The day started early, at about 4h in the morning. We took a highway to a Croatian city Senj and from there we a regional road towards Zadar.
In Zadar we decided to make a stop, to see the city and to grab something to eat and drink.
Zadar, a 5th largest city in Croatia, has a rich history dating from the prehistoric times to the present day.
The main interest of city lies in its churches. I’ve entered Church of Our Lady of Health and The Cathedral of St. Anastasia, which both have a compelling interior, and were a great refuge from the hot and busy day outside. I absolutely adore peaceful extraordinary mood which churches posses.
The Cathedral of St. Anastasia is the largest church in all of Dalmatia. Its origins date back to a Christian basilica built in the 4th and 5th centuries, while much of the currently standing three-nave building was constructed in the Romanesque style during the 12th and 13th centuries.
The bell tower of cathedral is open for tourists, and offers a great view of the city and surrounding.
St Elias Church, is an Orthodox church situated on a Roman capitol. It was built in late baroque style at the end of the 18th century in place of a medieval church of the same name.
From the early days of Roman rule, Zadar gained its Roman urban character and developed into one of the most flourishing centers on the eastern Adriatic coast, a state of affairs which lasted for several hundred years.
After a while, when temperature started moving from bearable to oppressive, we decided to move on.
The road from Zadar to Split became repetitive rather soon — sometimes I could have swear that we’re driving in a circle. The temperature outside was really high, air-conditioner kind of a helped, but the heath was unavoidable. The experience became rather annoying, and to make it even worst, some of the locals were really impatient on the road. I guess doing over a hundred, is a normal thing on those curvy sea side roads.
About 550km of driving, 10 hours since we started our journey, we at last arrived to Split. It was good to be at the final destination for that day.
In Split, we stayed at Horizon Luxury Suites, I’m mentioning this place and providing a link, because we were really happy with it. Everything was great, the room was just wonderful, the distance to the old city center just perfect, and receptionist was beyond friendly, helpful and informative.
After short refreshment and shower, we were ready to explore Split, and while doing it, we wanted to find a decent place to eat. To our surprise, there was not much offer for vegetarians.
We checked quite a lot of places, and finally found one that actually had a vegetarian plate on the menu, so we decided to try it.
The waiter didn’t know much about the whole thing. When we inquire what the plate contains, he replied, that it can be anything we want. He seemed rather confused and I’ve got a feeling, they don’t get much of vegetarian guests. Long story short, Inna ordered pasta, and I a vegetarian plate, but we booth got a dish which looked (with exception of minor details), the same. In other words, I’ve got spaghetti on a vegetarian plate. First time in my life.
But it was actually good, vegetables seemed very fresh and tasted great, and I think they’ve made a genuine, although clumsy, effort to please us.
Sun was setting and the atmosphere was really lovely. The city was lively, not too crowded, so it was actually a pleasure to walk around and explore. We tried different drinks and visit various places. Unfortunately, as often happens with me, I’ve got submerged into the experience, and neglect to take any photos.
Makarska, Dubrovnik (Day 2, 9th June)
After the breakfast we explored Split a bit further, and then head on towards Dubrovnik.
We made couple of stops here and there, just to enjoy the view, or to take photos. First longer break was in a small charming city called Makarska, about 60 kilometers of Split.
After a brief tour and a coffee, we continue our way.
There’s a small chunk of coastline which belongs to Bosnia and Herzegovina, with a coastal town called Neum. To access Dubrovnik though the mainland, it’s necessary to go though it. There are two borders in a matter minutes, first to enter Bosnia and second allowing you return to Croatia.
The inspection on both was brief, and traffic ran smoothly. It seems there’s some kind of arrangement in place for sake of tourism. When we were actually entering Bosnia the next day, the inspection was much more rigid.
From Neum to Dubrovnik we needed about an hour, with couple of stops in between.
In Dubrovnik we checked-in in our hotel and then took a bus to the old city, where we found a place to eat. Needless to say, everything was rather pricey (for what you’ve got). But I suppose that’s to be expected at such touristic place.
We took a cable car to a 412m high hill called Srđ, which offers a great view of the city.
When we returned from Srđ, we were stumbling around the city and after a while, when day started to coming to an end, we directed ourselves back towards the hotel.
Dubrovnik definitely has its allure, but for my taste, lots of potential is lost due to the high commercialization. On each corner a souvenir shop, or a place to eat, with personnel eagerly persuading masses of passing tourists to enter.
Mostar, Sarajevo (Day 3, 10th June)
We grabbed a quick breakfast and then move forwards or better say, backward, towards Sarajevo. We crossed the border in Doljani. Mostar was the first stop on our list.
Bosnia naturally had a lot of emotionally heavy scenes to show. Wonderful landscapes were often contrasted with remains of war. All the way to Sarajevo and even a bit further, majority of houses had bullet holes and other war related damages.
Bosnia was a materialized fear from my childhood; things we saw on television, things my grandmother would be saying, when panicking about going though yet another war. But we, Slovenes, we were lucky, this storm almost entirely missed us.
I feel very sorry for people who had to go through this nightmare, it was so wholly utterly unnecessary.
To be honest though, I’ve expected Bosnia to be like that (especially south), and I did not see it as a negative thing. Indeed this was occasionally rather dark painting, but yet a truly magnificent one, real, raw and provoking.
I enjoyed route towards Mostar, weather was perfect and traffic calm. Roads were mostly good; landscapes, cities and villages were picturesque and interesting to see. We saw a lot of war remains, but also a lot of new buildings, and signs of healing.
Mostar, situated on the Neretva River, is a cultural capital and the most important city in the Herzegovina region.
I’ve found a parking place in Mepas Mall the largest shopping center in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I’ve bought a map of the city, and we grabbed something to eat. This gave us some time to study the map, and figure out, where are we, and where to go. We assumed Old Bridge can’t be far so we started walking into a direction we though is correct.
Mostar is as scenic as Bosnia itself. There’s a lot of war remains mixed with new and renewed buildings.
The Old Bridge, is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most recognizable landmarks, it was built by the Ottomans and it stood for 427 years until it was destroyed in 1993 by Croat forces. Bridge was rebuild and opened in 2004.
After stumbling around for a while we finally found it.
There’s a lot of mosques and Islamic architecture in the city, this start to fade as you drive north, towards Republika Srpska (do not confuse it with the Republic of Serbia.) Political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina can be a bit confusing.
It was almost an evening before we arrived to Sarajevo. We stayed at Radon Plaza, which is a truly elegant place. We dined in a hotel’s revolving restaurant. While I usually dislike luxury places, this time I exceptionally enjoyed. We had a nice, calm conversation while enjoying lovely view of the city as the sun was setting.
Banja Luka (Day 4, 11th June)
We toured a city a little bit, and visited Sarajevo War Tunnel (Tunnel Museum), which on itself (the tiny part we could see) was not so spectacular, much more interesting was Bajro Kolar, a man who helped to create the tunnel, and now runs the museum (which is in his house). He had a lot of interesting stories to share.
Road towards Banja Luka was curvy, we crossed mountains, villages and towns. Somewhere in wilderness we came across captivating little Inn, where we stopped for a drink.
Banja Luka was a pleasant surprise, I wish we could have dedicated more time to it. The city was shined very positive energy and had a lot of beautiful buildings to show. We had a lunch and explored the center a little bit.
Banja Luka was the last stop on our list, after it long and tiring drive towards home was waiting. After all the driving, I was stopped by the police five minutes from home, where they administered a breathalyzer on me. I was visible tired, but of course, not drunk.
I found Croatia to be aligned with my expectations, it was somehow, well, plastic; that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it, it surely is worth seeing. I especially liked Split and Makarska, they had a special charm. Dubrovnik was kind of a exaggeration of everything, commercialization, crowdedness, and it was somehow devoted of substance. Perhaps this was not a good time to visit it.
In general, I’m usually looking for things that will challenge me, in one way or another. It’s my personal whim. I need things to be extraordinary, raw, different — I truly love when my perspectives or abilities are challenged.
I do not travel to have a vacation where I could rest, not that anything is wrong with that, but rather to have an experience which will in some form enrich me.
Bosnia, hence, painted very interesting picture for me. It had a rich texture, it was emotionally provoking, and I can say without a doubt, that it was the best part of the journey. I understand that many people would not agree with me, that’s perfectly fine, I never claimed my taste is common.