TRAVEL WISHLIST: THREE AMAZING LITTLE PLACES

Here are a few places that have been on my mind recently:

TREBINJE, BOSNIA

I heard about this place from our hosts in Belgrade, who were really excited about it. This town is close to Mostar, and judging by the pictures it looks amazing!

BLED, SLOVENIA

We didn’t go to Bled last year when we visited Slovenia, but this place has been on my list since. The church in the middle of the lake is the main attraction, and it looks beautiful!

PAMUKKALE, TURKEY

Natural hot springs in a setting like this? That’s all I need to know really.
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A WEEK IN THE OLD YUGOSLAVIA: BELGRADE, SERBIA

We got on a 6am bus from Sarajevo’s main station. Buses depart daily and tickets cost around 50KM (£20) per person, but there are organised tours or you can take the plane. We had no hope that the journey would take 7h10 as we were told, but this time we were surprisingly on time!

The bus goes through the snowy hills of Bosnia and onto the Serbian countryside. The border crossing came and went without much hassle.

We arrived in Belgrade in the early afternoon. This was our final destination. Again the station looked a bit rough and the street names in Cyrillic made for a difficult start, but we found our way around.

THE CITY CENTRE:

belgrade2_for webThe area between Cara Dušana-Frankuska and the pedestrianised Knez Mihailova is the central area of the city. There are many bars and cafes (plus countless bakeries and pizzerias) around this area.

The pedestrianised road leads to the local fortress. On a nice day (and this was one of them), the views of the city from the fortress can be quite nice. This is also where the Danube crosses the city.

This was the last stop in a long journey, and after much sightseeing I was finding Belgrade a bit gritty and unappealing. But then we hit the bars.

  • We stumbled upon Pastis Bistro, a lovely French place which was quite popular. On the menu cocktails, coffee, great local wine and popcorn (from an old-fashioned popcorn machine).
  • Next we stopped at Cafe La Libertad, where Che Guevara is the hero of choice. This place was low-key and friendly.
  • We ended our first night in the city at Big Pizza, a fast-food pizzeria where we got a massive pizza for £4.
  • On our last day of this journey we continued to visit the local bars. We stopped for coffee and beer at the Eleven Bar & Cafe .
  • Then we moved onto Skadarska street which is lined with nice restaurants on both sides. This little street is very different from the rest of Belgrade, with a much more Western Europe feel. It is known as the Montmartre of Belgrade.
  • We stopped at the Travelling Actor for a drink in the sun and tried the local spirit – quince brandy. Service in Belgrade is friendly and food and drinks are extremely cheap. English is spoken in most places, although not as widely as in more touristic cities.
  • We then reached Dali Bar, which was (obviously) a Salvador Dali-inspired cocktail bar with many options of drinks on the menu. A cocktail costs about £3.
  • Moving on we ventured onto Walter Sarajevski Cevap, a nice eatery where we had beer and chips (their speciality is the cevap, the local alternative to a burger).
  • We then stopped at Jimmy Woo, a trendy cocktail bar where the waiter helpfully warned us that all beers were small (we were clearly not the first people to come from England to stop there). I tried Lav, a Serbian beer.
  • And then everything changed. We find this little hideaway in Višnjićeva street, which instantly became our favourite place. Unhelpfully, this is a hole in the wall without a sign, but it’s only a few doors up from Soho bar.
  • We went for dinner at Osteria Gallo Nero, an authentic Italian place recommended to us at the hostel. Food was delicious and the service friendly. We ended the night back at our favourite place for a few more beers.

Belgrade doesn’t have much to offer in terms of landmarks, but the cafes and bars are great and we had a great time.

 HOW TO DO IT:

  • Getting there: Belgrade is normally at the start or at the end of the journey for people visiting the former Yugoslavia. We travelled with Jet Airways, which provided a good service.
  • Stay: We stayed at Indigo Hostel, where hosts Ana and Voja were extremely helpful. The place was nice and the room spacious. It’s located at the top of Skavarska street, very close to the restaurants and bars.
  • Money: Belgrade is very cheap. You can eat well at a restaurant for £7, and a beer costs less than £2.
  • Food: Eating in Eastern Europe is not easy for vegetarians, but if you stick to what you know it’s not that bad. The best option in to research some veggie dishes in advance and to stick to these. Pizza is ubiquitous, and many places offer a vegetarian pizza option.

THE END:

This was the end of our Eastern European adventure. We started off in Croatia, spent a day in Montenegro, then travelled through Bosnia stopping in Mostar and Sarajevo and finally ending up in Belgrade. We learned a lot from the history of the places we visited and loved the cheap prices – I recommend it!

A WEEK IN THE OLD YUGOSLAVIA: SARAJEVO, BOSNIA

We got on a bus from Mostar at 11 in the morning. The bus service to Sarajevo is frequent and tickets cost about £8.

The trip was supposed to take two hours but again it took longer than expected, nearly three hours. But this is forgiven because the views are amazing, passing through sunny valleys and snowy mountains.

The bus station in Sarajevo looked a bit rough, but most people were helpful and spoke a little English, so we managed to find our way around alright anyway.

Tram n.1 departs from the railway station (next to the bus station), and gets to the city centre in about 10 minutes.

sarajevo5_for web

Although we had been enjoying the sun at the beginning of our trip, we were greeted by snow and rain in Sarajevo. I’m not sure what I expected from Sarajevo, but somehow the bad weather seemed to fit with the place, despite making it a bit offputting for tourism.

Similarly to Mostar, in Sarajevo the war still seems very recent. Many landmarks (such as the yellow Holiday Inn where journalists reported the war) have something to do with war. But this is also the place of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, which triggered the start of WWI.

The Old Town (Stari Grad) is very nice and picturesque, with nice bars and cafes around. At its heart is the Baščaršija, the old market with stalls selling souvenirs and all sorts of things.

The bad weather definitely had an impact on how much we were able to see, so we preferred to stay close to the hostel. We went for Cheers Bar for drinks, and then were were on the road again.

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Getting there: Sarajevo is often visited by tourists on their way to and from other places in the region, but there are some options for flying in as well.
  • Travelling by bus: We travelled by bus a lot on this trip. We had no problem buying tickets one or two days in advance, as it’s not possible to book anything online. The routes we travelled were all common, but sometimes we only had one option of departure time (often a very early start). Buses depart on time but somehow always end up taking longer en route, possibly because of the local landscape – which is beautiful, but doesn’t make for fast journeys.
  • Stay: Thee are many options from Hostelworld – we stayed in a place which I don’t really recommend. Staying close to the Old Town is the best options, as everything is nearby.
  • Money: Euros are commonly accepted in Bosnia, especially in hotels, shops and businesses around touristy areas.
  • Read: I started reading ‘Twice Born’ by Margaret Mazzantini after we came back from the trip. The novel is set in Sarajevo during the war, and it’s a great read – definitely captures the spirit of the place.

A WEEK IN THE OLD YUGOSLAVIA: MOSTAR, BOSNIA

We left Croatia early in the morning in a bus to Mostar.

Bosnia is very close to Croatia, but with three border crossings along the way (Bosnia-Croatia-Bosnia), expect the journey to take at least a good four hours, regardless of what any guide will tell you.

The bus journey goes alongside the Croatian coast and then onto the Bosnian countryside, with scenic views all the way.

Once you’ve crossed the third border into Bosnia, it quickly becomes clear that this country is still recovering from the war, the many derelict buildings and bullet holes an evident reminder of its recent past.

MOSTAR:

mostar9_for web

I was looking forward to visiting Mostar. The view of the Old Bridge is stunning, and undoubtedly what warranted the town’s Heritage site status. Mostar is in Herzegovina, the southern part of the country.

The Old Town is scattered with souvenir shops and restaurants. There is lots of handicraft on sale, including copper jewellery and coffee sets, which are often made in workshops nearby. Prices are extremely low as compared to anything in the UK. As ever, we bought nothing.

We stopped for lunch at Kulluk. This could easily have been a tourist trap, but this being low season we had a nice lunch with views of the bridge for about £10 for two including tips – portions in Bosnia are normally quite large, and this was no exception.

What is clear all around Mostar is how recent the war is. The bridge was completely destroyed in 1993 and reopened in 2004 (there’s horrible footage of it being destroyed here). Venture outside the Old Town and all around there are buildings completely covered in bullet holes, a grim contrast to the beauty of the little city centre. War memorabilia is ubiquitous (bullet case souvenir, anyone?).

The place is at once beautiful, nostalgic, and poor – walking around the near empty streets at night it’s clear why everything is so cheap: there isn’t much money going around here anyway.

We went for a beer early in the evening at Black Dog Pub, which came highly recommended on TripAdvisor. You can have a pint for less than £1.50, which should be enough to justify the visit, but it’s actually a nice place, with a relaxed atmosphere and clearly a place for locals as well as tourists.

The place was quite full, as was Sadrvan, a traditional eatery that was completely packed on a night where every other restaurant was dead empty. This is the place to visit (we hear) if you want to try the local fare. The food was really nice, again the portions were massive (order olives and you get a whole jar) and the service was friendly. Vegetarianism hasn’t really made it to Bosnia yet, and veganism is definitely alien – even the roasted vegetables (delicious) had cheese on them.

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Transportation: Mostar is normally visited by tourists on the way to Sarajevo or Dubrovnik. Buses from Dubrovnik to Mostar leave a few times daily, and although the distances are short, be prepared to spend more than four hours on a bus. The main terminal in Dubrovnik is easily accessible by bus from the city centre. Tickets cost 110 kunars per person and can be bought at the bus terminal in advance or on the day.
  • Accommodation: We stayed at Elite Guesthouse. For 25€ we stayed in a large and comfortable bedroom with a massive ensuite bathroom. Everything was sparkling clean. Our host, Mesa, was really helpful and really takes pride on his nice hotel. Many people only stop in Mostar for a few hours on their way to Sarajevo, but I recommend spending a night there, before heading to Sarajevo.
  • Money: Everything is extremely cheap, even in the touristy areas. The currency in Bosnia is the Convertible Mark, but many places accept euros.