The title of this post may be a bit deceiving as I am only really talking about Mostar and Montenegro; if one would consider that the Balkans. After being physically and emotionally drained from my experience in the Srebrenica Summer University, I had a few days to myself to travel the region before heading to Romania. The morning after the program ended, I hopped a train to Mostar; a picture-perfect Bosnian city that sits near the border with Croatia and is consequently, filled with many tourists day-tripping from Dubrovnik. Perched along a river, Mostar boasts ancient architecture, Southern European hospitality, Italian Gelato, and great food. This was the perfect place for me to get a much needed respite after the Peace March and Sarejevo.
When my train arrived in the morning, I followed Mesa’s directions to his hostel (Elite Guesthouse), where I was greeted by a friendly smile and suprisingly, an early check-in. Because the room was already clean, Meche offered to give me a room with a private bathroom for the same price so I could check in and get settled. He also told me that if I couldn’t get a transfer to my next destination (Montenegro), he would go to the train station to get me tickets so I could spend time enjoying the city instead. And I did just that.
First, I set out walking towards the old town of Mostar which consists of a narrow alley of cobblestone streets and the famous old bridge. My first stop was the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque which claims the best view of the old bridge from the top of its minaret. At first I opted just to visit the inside of the Mosque but when I changed my mind and went back to pay the attendant the extra Euros she just motioned for me to climb up the winding stairway to the top. When I emerged on a small and windy perch, I was greeted by panoramic views of the city and the beautiful surrounding countryside in every direction.
After I defended back to the road, I continued onwards until I came to the Old Bridge; a breathtaking stone walkway that connects the two sections of the old town across the river. Unfortunately, the original bridge was destroyed in the war allegedly by a spiteful Croat; Fortunately, the bridge and all its splendid beauty has been rebuilt and restored and continues to stand as the architectural center piece of the town. After I crossed the bridge, I stopped off for some Turkish coffee to rest and brush up on my Bosnian history before I visited the gallery of photographs depicting the war that is housed in one of the bridges towers.
After I visited the gallery, I headed further into the old town until I came across the Hindin Han restaurant. With a beautiful setting along a river and excdellent food, I ordered a beer and settled in for a few hours.
After lunch, I continued to meander through the charming streets, stopping off for a gelato before heading back to the hostel for a nap. When I arrived, Mesa informed me that there were not enough people for a transfer, so I headed to the Tourist information center after my rest and booked a transfer to Kotor for the following morning. After I had secured my transportation for the next day I headed to the riverside restuarants and decided on one which was recommended in my guidebook. I had not intended to eat here, but once I settled into a cozy table overlooking the water, with a splendid view of the bridge, and after I had a few glasses of local white wine, I decided to stay for dinner. The waiter recommended a local cheese and fish from the river, which I washed down with more white wine. It may not have been the most interesting day I have spent abroad, but it was among the most delightful…and just what I needed after my program.
After dinner, I strolled down towards the river again for some last minute souvenir shopping and more gelato.
As I strolled back down the alley that led to my hostel, I saw Mesa sitting at a table by the local cafe nursing a beer. He enthusiastically motioned for me to join him and we sat discussing how wonderful Mostar was, but also how much it had sufferred during the war. Meche shared how he had fought as a 14 year old during the years that Mostar was under attack and showed me a picture of him as a soldier. Indeed, as beautiful as the city is, and as delightful as the day was, there were reminders throughout the city that the war had reached Mostar also. And although the city may not have suffered as much as Sarajevo, there are still reminders that there was suffering here too.
The next morning, I bid farewell to my delightful host and hopped in a car with four other travelers for a long and uncomfortable ride to Kotor, Montenegro.
When I arrived in Kotor, Montenegro, I was dropped off outside the wall of the old town where I had to find my way to my hostel with another woman who was in the transfer car with me. Once we entered into the gated old city, I was immediately in love with Kotor, and by extension, Montenegro. Beautiful stone buildings, wonderfully preserved old churches, sprawling piazzas filled with lively cafes and strolling people eating gelato and snapping pictures. Once I settled into my hostel, I set out to explore the streets a bit and secure a ride to the airport for the following evening.
Around 5 in the afternoon, I decided to venture up the old stone stairway that led from my hostel up behind the town to St. John’s Fortress perched high above the bay of Kotor and the Old Town walls. The hike, which requires one to climb 1,340 stairs, gives better and better panoramic views as you ascend higher until finally reaching the ruins of the fort that protected the town hundreds of years earlier.
The streets of Kotor come alive at night with classsical music, bars, and alfresco cafes where one can enjoy a good beer, a dessert, or one of the quality local Montenegro wines. After emerging from my window to see some local musicians play out the theme song to Game of Thrones, I was fully won over by this quaint little corner of Montenegro. I happily bounced down the stairs from my room and went to find a highly recommended seafood restuarant where I had a dish of grilled squid and roasted potatoes that definitely ranks as one of my top meals of all time.
With very little time in the country, the next day I had signed up for a tour so I could visit Lovcen National Park and see a bit more of Montenegro than just the walled city. As there were only three of us signed up for the tour, we set out with our guide in his car up the mountain through 25 switchbacks before arriving in the park. The drive was beautiful and we stopped at multiple points along the way to get out and take pictures of the surrounding four bays as well as the Bay of Kotor.
When we arrived at the top we climbed over 400 stairs to visit the tomb of Peter Petrovic Njego before stopping off in a small village to taste the local wine, meats and cheeses that Montenegro is known for. Revered in Montenegro as a national hero, Njego chose this space upon the second highest point in the mountains with the idea that someone better than him might eventually come along and that person should be buried at the highest point. That has yet to happen.
I was so impressed with the local specialties that upon returning to the old town after the tour I stopped off at the Old town Winery/Bar where I enjoyed a half liter of local white and tasting plate before I headed out to the airport for my flight to Romania. Flying on a rinky dinky Serbian Airlines plane across the Balkans drunk was probably not my best move.
The few days I spent travelling by myself in Mostar and Kotor were much more pleasant than I could have anticipated, as I much prefer to travel with others than alone. Yet, after ten days of travelling with 40 other people, sharing a room, and sleeping in a tent on a hard rocky ground, these few days of pleasant solitude turned out to be exactly what I needed to rest up for the second phase of my trip.
On to Romania!