Spring Break in the Balkans

After a gruelling seven weeks of work (I’m joking – what work?) we had another two week break before our contracts finished. This time with the weather improving I decided to head to the Balkans for some sight seeing and a bit of sun. One of the other assistants travelled with me for about half the trip which was lovely! Hope you had fun Ruth. Warning this post is a little longer than usual as it includes a bit of a history lesson about the events of the 90s, please read on.

The holiday began with a very early morning train ride to Paris to catch my plane to Zagreb (Croatia). Zagreb was a surprise, very European (it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), and the women were very pretty, wearing stylish clothes, sunglasses and walking the cutest dogs. I visited the Upper town (read: old town) and had an explore in the rest of the city but the highlight was visiting the Museum of Broken Relationships. This quirky museum displays mementos that remain after a relationship ends, things donated by people around the globe. My favourite was an toaster with the description: “When I moved out and across the country I took the toaster. That’ll show you. How are you going to toast anything now?”

After Zagreb I flew to Split and met Ruth. We ate lots of Pizza and seafood and explored the Roman ruins and climbed hills. After one day there we took a ferry to Hvar, an Island where we spent Ruth’s birthday. We did much the same as in Split but also sat on beaches had a champagne breakfast and watched gorgeous sunsets. Hvar was stunning!

We popped through to Kotor (Montenegro) for two days and climbed the fortress, 260m high up a hill and enjoyed amazing views from our hotel. The night we arrived in Kotor we had the strangest meal ever, so strange that it has it’s own blog post! If you haven’t read it already please check it out. Kotor really reminded me a lot of Queenstown, however in this case it was a bay rather than a lake the views were similarly amazing.

We headed back through to Dubrovnik and endured a crazy bus driver who was gunning it the whole way, Ruth had to take some motion sickness medication. Dubrovnik was lovely and sunny, but unfortunately quite windy (reminding me of another NZ city, Wellington) and full of tourists. On our second day we managed to beat some of the tourists up and walked around the city walls. We also went into lots of churches, a couple of museums and explored the city streets which are all pedestrianised within the old town. Ate some oysters, ice cream and drank beer. We also saw a couple of moving exhibits about the Siege of Dubrovnik and those who defended the city. I later visited the graves of those killed and whose photos were displayed in the memorial room. It was heartbreaking to see the grave of one 17 year old defender.

On Sunday I headed on to Bosnia and Hercegovina (BiH), with my first stop being Mostar. Mostar was the scene of another terrible siege in the Bosnia war and many of the sights are related to the war. The Stari Most bridge was famously bombed and destroyed then rebuilt after the war. There were heaps of tourists checking that out so to get off the beaten track me and another guy from the hostel jumped a wall and climbed a 10-story shell of a building that was used as the Serbian snipers nest during the siege. Only the concrete parts of the building remained and it was chilling to think of what went on in that building 20-plus years ago. Needless to say there weren’t any cruise ship tourists there!

My next stop was the scene of the longest siege on a capital city in modern warfare. Over 5,000 civilians and many many mostly untrained, young and inexperienced soldiers were killed over a nearly four year period in Sarajevo. The ride into the city was an interesting one, almost every building had war damage, from bullet impacts to shelling damage. Almost the only buildings without damage were those built after 1996, the end of the siege. I spent two days learning about the history of the city and also enjoying the cafe and shisha scene (the city was part of both the Ottoman and the Austro-Hungarian Empires and so it has lots of Turkish influences still today). A highlight of my visit was a visit to the Tunnel of Hope. People built this tunnel under the airport to sneak supplies and people in and out of the city while it was surrounded by Serbian soldiers.

After Sarajevo I spent three days in Belgrade. It was nice to be back in a large city after two weeks and I enjoyed going to museums but also just exploring the city. I learnt a lot about the history of the country and saw the effects of war on the city, there is still evidence of the 1999 NATO bombing. Another highlight was learning about and visiting the grave of Marshal Tito the lifelong leader of Yugoslavia. My favourite area of the city was Savamala, where there is heaps of impressive street art. The nightlife was pretty good too!

Now I’m waiting at the airport to go back to France, I’m excited though as tonight I’ll be meeting my parents who arrived into London earlier in the week.

Until next time,

Amanda xx

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