Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Kotor and Budva: Montenegro 'Old Mates'.

After 24 days on the road we’ve now acquired too many ‘old mates’ that during conversation you can easily forget which one you’re actually referring too.

Stepping into what could resemble an antique store (until you meet the crazy Serbian, Ross who would never get mistaken for a 1800 highly sought after gold plate) the Old Town Hostel of Kotor, Montenegro, has felt like a travellers reunion. It seems like everyone makes a pit stop here bumping into an ‘old mate.’

It doesn’t take long for the raki to come out. No one bothers to ask the now redundant question, ‘what are you doing here?’

We’ve spent 5 days in Montenegro. It didn’t take long for us to extend our time in Kotor leaving only a night in Budva. Maybe it was because we just loved having our picture taken. The tourists couldn’t get enough of the lit candle with all the wax beneath it. Sitting on a table, ground level, everyone would take a photo of this candle when walking past, down the alleyway. Poor tourists. I don’t think this is currently listed on the Lonely Planet as a ‘local attraction.’ Particularly when the photo isn’t just of the candle burning instead it features either Kylie, myself or someone else from the Hostel photobombing in the background.

Kotor is a little melting pot for outdoor adventures. During our time here we’ve avoided the mainstream options of caving and paragliding. Instead battled spider webs with a stick during a hike to the top of the ridge that overlooks the famous fort. This proved a test of masculinity for certain members of the group.

I’ve had a real David Attenborough moment. Whilst admiring the views that show 80% of Montenegro from the highest point in Lovćen National Park someone else was enjoying it too. That was the Christmas bug that had taken up residency on my head.

The Gulf of Kotor is also a swimmers paradise. To live like a local you need to check out Lazy Bar. Supposedly it’s renowned for it’s reggae music. I didn’t realise that Barry White and Tom Jones were artists that have had dread locks at some point during their music careers. We’ve had several great days there contemplating life and also trying to work out why so many locals wear Speedos from different countries (even New Zealand was spotted). It’s an unanswered mystery. Speculation is that they may swap swimmers after a water polo tournament.

It’s my second time in the area now. The place still holds so much charm and stray cats. The ‘Cat Shop’ still sells random memorabilia. But I imagine within the next 5 years there’ll be a funicular car that takes you to the top of the ridge where you can sip a Pinot Grigo in the orbiting restaurant. 

It’s been a fun few days making new, but also seeing old, ‘old mates.’ The beauty of travelling is that you never know when you’re going to bump into a familiar face on the road and you can keep saying 'see you later,' as it does still hold meaning. 

Toodle pip x

New Zealand representing (who?) in Montenegro.

Gulf of Kotor. 
Failed attempt at either a jumping shot or Latino dancing. At least the view is nice.
The Christmas Bug. After it was recovered from my hair.
Taking a jump. After discovering the Christmas Bug in my hair.
Lovćen National Park.
Clever way to keep your beer cool. But the toughest decision is which option to go for to quench your thirst.

Cow and a cruise ship. Not often seen together.
Spider and a Fort in the background. Also a uncommon sight.

The path of spiders and stellar views.

Lazy Bar, Kotor.

Kotor - another Lazy Bar.

Budva Old Town.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Cavtat: Another tough week.

My Dad will always joke aloud; ‘this is the life, this is the life,’ to capture a situation that foretells at that specific moment that life just isn’t all that bad.

This little saying has been reiterated, and is starting to sound like a broken record, over these past few days.

Swimming, sun-baking (and then admiring with regret how London skin doesn’t quite turn a golden brown instantly), eating gelato; it’s been two tough days.

I was last in Cavtat, Croatia several years ago admiring it mainly from the interior of the yacht I was working on. Gone are those days now. This time, I wasn’t working (unless you count the 9-5 on the sun lounger) and was able to enjoy having feet on dry land.

Cavtat doesn’t look like it’s changed much. It’s still picture perfect. Every type of souvenir shop is lined along the promenade selling Croatian blue and white striped Tees. A few super yachts docked in the harbor watching over tourists strolling past. The smell of pine needles lingers in the air with sea salt and the crystal clear waters. Delish.

It’s been a nice excuse for a pit stop before we kick it up in Kotor, Montenegro.

For my Dad, he doesn’t need a two-day break in Cavtat to use his little saying. Normally it’s the small things that we take pleasure in. Kicking up his feet on the couch with the Sunday papers. Patting his stomach after a really good meal. Or just having a moment of contentment.

I hope you can find something over your weekend that gives you just a little bit of pleasure. So you can pause for a moment and say, ‘this is the life, this is the life.’

Toodle pip x

Adriatic you gorgeous thing!

Hard day in Cavtat.

Cavtat Town.

The office.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Mostar: thank you Majda

Smaller than Sarajevo, divided by the jaw-dropping Neretva River and the infamous Stari Most watching over, is stunning Mostar.

We hadn’t initially planned to come and visit but after hearing about Majdas Hostel, a second home were you receive more of the warming Bosnian welcome, we had to include this in the plan.

But like the rest of the country during the 1990s, the area is also still showing signs of wounds slowly healing after the war.

Arriving late morning we were welcome by Bata, Majdas brother at the train station who leaped into the Bosnian version of “Whaaatssss up...”

I liked him already.

The hospitality didn’t end there with a breakfast of French Toast washed down with Bosnian coffee.

Under the sweltering 38 degrees we’ve continued to follow the complex history of this country. New Zealand born Wade Goddard first arrived in the area back in 1992. As a young 22 year old, he retells his account of the war through the lens of his camera at the War Time exhibition. It’s very moving, again giving you a parting gift of such admiration for the local people’s stoic attitude to keep charging on.

Stari Most, the bridge dividing the East from the West is a living piece of history. I’m sure if it could talk, over a Café Latte it would have a long tale to share. Between sips, it would delve into the initial construction in the 1400s finishing off with a story of happy days before it's destruction with little to no remorse (or thought) by the Croats.

But back to why Mostar is Mostar today. That’s the credit of the local people, and in particular Majda and Bata who run the home we stayed in. They’re forever smiling and joking. Today we met her Mother, who was the one that initially encouraged opening a hostel 8 years ago. Afterwards, Majda thanked us for talking to her.

Bata runs a tour that has received international fame. You just need to set aside 13 hours and be prepared to be continuously laughing throughout the day.

We had initially only booked 1 night in Mostar. This quickly tuned into 2 and now we are on our 3rd and final night. I don’t want to leave, especially now that we are getting served homemade vegetable soup for dinner. Call it mad Bosnians as who eats soup in 38-degree weather or just another sign of the welcoming Bosnian hospitality.

Toodle pip x

Neretva River.

Stari Most.


Stari Most.

The infamous bridge divers.

Snipers overtook this building (previously a bank).

Bata's famous tour.

Literally running for the bus as Bata decides to play a trick on us.

Disco time on Bata's bus.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Sarajevo: Respect.

My initial preconceptions of Bosnia, in particular, Sarajevo were built upon what I witnessed on TV as a kid and what friends have retold after recent visits.

For me, the Holiday Inn, an orange and yellow refugee for International journalists covering the war stands out. I think my school did partake in a Red Cross scheme whereby we wrote letters and sent gifts to the children of Sarajevo but those are hazy memories now, but for those who lived through these years this time is still not buried away and remains very fresh. 

Friends recommended to me that the first thing you do when arriving in Sarajevo is spending some time with Neno, but don’t get this confused with that little goldfish Nemo.

But first we needed to get a quick pep talk from Kennan, who informed us that Sarajevo is now the 7th safest city in the world. But please, please can we not wear any jewellery as the other day a Kiwi woman had her necklace torn off her neck by a local child.

He really made a point that she was a Kiwi. But that story didn’t have any impact as we felt beyond safe in this city.

Neno is about our age and runs his tours once he has a full house (but keeps to a maximum of 10 people). I’m not sure how you manage to articulate a clear and concise road map in history of this country, but he achieved it with huge praise. I won’t go into too much detail as I’d recommend you spend some time with Neno yourself and here what he has to say.  All I can say that he manages to allow you to form your own opinion on what is a very and still very complicated history. He is a book of knowledge thanks to dedicating his studies to history and the passion to forgive – but never forget.

Our tour and time with Neno ended with a typical Bosnian coffee whilst trying to not give money to the begging kids. Each question we asked him that mainly focused on the recent history was given an honest and heart rendering answer. But that would trigger off another question hungry to know and try to understand.

6 April is the Memorial Day. Neno recalled what they did last year. Tito Street was ‘decorated’ with 11,000 chairs. A seat for every victim of the war. Each chair coloured red as a remainder of the bloodshed. There was a silent pause from Neno who let his tears fall. You could tell we were all wanting to say and express something. But nothing would help soothe what he and everyone in Bosnia have witnessed and endured.  

A pinch of insight into the hardships has been graphically captured in the History Museum and at the Tunnel of Hope. There is now only 10m left of the tunnel. Initially it stretched over 800m, only 1.5m in height from the Kolar house, airport than into the city. This did become the man made structure of hope for the locals, used for transporting food, weapons and carrying the wounded. Walking through it it’s hard to really comprehend that a local would carry at least 50kg on their back through this tunnel (often taking at least 45 mins to get through).

Everyone still talks about what little food there was to eat over these years. Soldiers were paid in cigarettes, and a bag of flour would cost over 100 euros. Food rations were provided, mostly expired goods dating back to the Vietnam War. Ask any local what a can of gold and blue with stars down the middle and the words ‘beef’ on the side represents. Usually you’ll get a shudder with the response that even their dog wouldn’t eat it now.

But this city is moving on. Although you do hear the words echo, that they have ‘forgiven but will never forget.’ The reading and education I’ve had in these past few days has given me so much respect and admiration for these people. The determination to continue ‘normal life’ during these years with the desire for peace always remaining at top of mind.

Everyone we’ve met so far has been amazing. So hospitable. From a brandy tasting session with our Hostel owner. Through to our cab driver staying with us at the train station to chat about New Zealand. For me, Bosnia so far and Sarajevo in particular is a country that you’re welcomed in. And even better treated like an old mate. 

Toodle pip x

View of the city below along with the civilian grave site.

Typical Bosnian coffee. Not for the weak hearted.

Bosnian coffee time.

Tunnel of Hope.

Tunnel of Hope.

Weapons smuggled through.

Kolar House.

Kolar House.

View of the city, and the infamous Holiday Inn

New City Hall.

The Eternal Flame.

Memorial for those who died outside the Markale Markets

Flowers for sale at the markets.

Markale Markets.


Main square.

Main square.

The infamous canned beef.

Site of the snipers located outside the Holiday Inn.