Going Coastal Again

The temperatures within the concrete jungles of Belgrade and Sarajevo made the trip back to the Croatian coast that much more of a blessing! July 20th I met up with a Canadian friend in Split. A very touristy spot it does have an ancient palace that is beautiful, however it has been compromised a bit with the invasion of large retail fashion shops. A couple of chilled out days there on patios and the beach fit the bill.

It was then time to return to Brac to see the Funky Donkey crew for a couple of days, almost a homey feeling seeing so many familiar faces. It once again did not disappoint, enjoying a couple days of island partying, beaches and another trip to Bol.

One of the anticipated stops on my trip through the Balkans was to Mostar for the last weekend of July (more precisely the last Sunday in July) where an annual bridge jumping competition has been taking place from 22 meters high since 1968. Prior to the competition beginning in the afternoon, on an extremely windy day, we made a stop at one of the two mosques which are open to the public and climbed the narrow stairs of the minaret to a small lookout which gave views of the river and city below.

We also went to an old, now abandoned and pretty much stripped bank building which was used as a snipers’ nest during the war. An awesome yet eerie experience as we entered the building, bearing no windows, glass and rubbish on the floors and graffitied walls. Climbing the 6 storeys each floor held history that could just be felt (as odd as that may sound). The second floor still had tattered carpet in parts that contain the remnants of offices, book shelves, books and bank documents strewn on the floor. On the fifth floor, in the far corner, there was a hole in the wall that would have been used to shoot from and a large pile of bullet shells. The ‘tour’ was completed with a climb up a ladder to the roof. The view included many war-torn empty buildings set next to trendy cafes and a park bustling with children – an interesting contrast is only one way to describe it.

As said, it was an extremely windy day, however, this did not stop the competition (though some locals believed it should have). About 20 competitors dove. This included a free session in the middle where guys did backflips, etc. It was a little short, not as many crazy dives as I had expected and not as lively a crowd as I anticipated, however, it was still pretty unbelievable. A relaxed evening of sheesha and then to a bar which is inside a cave (cool atmosphere) capped off the day.

The following day we joined the hostel owner and 15 others for the ‘Bata tour’ which lasted 14 hours! A trip to the Kravice waterfalls and a monastery were on the agenda, outside of that you must visit it and experience it for yourself!

Continuing south we arrived in Kotor, Montenegro two days ago! More to come on this country shortly.

Post EXIT

Before continuing with what has been going on, I left out an interesting point in my last post. That being that the bus (coach, not a minibus) from Split to Zadar broke down not even 10 mins after leaving and conveniently did it just coming into an intersection. Once it was concluded that it could move no further it was the man power of myself and 5 other guys in about 38 degree weather to push it 8 meters or so!

Ok and now onward. I arrived in Belgrade Monday evening after EXIT and took a few days to relax. The city was not nearly as ‘hard’ and raw as I believed it would be, infact outside of the fortress, which is massive, I did not find there to be much attraction in the city. Though Serbia seems the place where musical events happen in fortresses as I went to another show in Belgrade in one. This was put on by the university, a free show with a Croatian cover band, Serbian reggae band and Serbian rock band (whom are from Belgrade). Good time with about 1000-1200 people!

Four nights down in Belgrade and feeling much more rested then when I had arrived, it was off to Sarajevo, Bosnia. I did not have much expectation of the city as I quite honestly had not done any reading on it, nor heard much word of mouth. The bus from Serbia was 8 hours and had great landscapes as soon as we crossed into Bosnia, gorgeous mountains as the road hugged the river and moved through many single lane tunnels, most unlit and some seeming as they had just been hammered out of the rock. Entering at sunset we were greeted by a beautiful city that is sunken and surrounded on all sides by hills. The view including mosques, synagogues, churches, communist buildings and many terracotta rooftops.

A city rattled by 4 years of war is now free but has steps to climb. They still have three governments as well as an administration that governs the three. This system was put into place in order for the blood baths to stop and still continues that each party has an eight month term and then rotates, this essentially making it impossible for any progression and instead just huge costs to the citizens. A couple of years ago 150 changes to laws were tabled, 1 was passed.

I went on a tour of the area with the guy who runs the hostel and got a good run down of pre-war, war and post-war times. Quite informative and moving. A political war, not civilian, that killed 11,000 innocent people, 1,500 children, as Sarajevo was surrounded on the hills by the Serbs, only 30 feet between them (during WWII troops stood 50 feet apart), whom fired at anything, schools, hospitals and places of worship included. NATO bombings 4 years later finally stopped the madness. Stops on the way included the underground tunnel which was 800 meters and ran under the airport connecting the city and the Bosnian free zone. People walked this daily to get out of the city and return with many kilos of supplies for their families and friends. Visited a traditional Bosnian house from the 16th century, the Latin bridge which is where one of the most historical moments happened, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, which sparked the start of WWI. Unfortunately my camera battery died that morning at our first stop so I am without a number of photos.

There are many empty, abandoned or unfinished buildings in the city. One of which adventured into.

Additionally the hostel terrace and sunsets from it were fantastic! Sarajevo also was the place for a change up to the beard, and what seemed more fitting then a nice set of chops, handlebar mustache.

This city is unbelievable and should not be missed, there is still a lot of misunderstanding of its current state and further more exactly what happened here in the early 90s and why.

Tomorrow it is back to Croatia to meet up with a good friend for a couple of weeks. Am looking forward to being back on the sea!

Brac & EXIT

Open Water Diver certificate in hand I headed for Supetar on Brac, the largest island in Croatia, south of Primošten on July 3rd. It was necessary to catch a ferry from Split, which took about an hour. I know a ferry to an island only seems logical but it was interesting that on it were a huge amount of motorbikes and leather. Thought this to be quite odd and not fitting for islands and high 30 degree temperatures. This however did make sense once arriving, getting settled in and finding out from the staff there was a 2 night party called Motofest that happens annually and we were going to check it out that night. Heading out about 30 minutes into the bush party with about 12 people we arrived to 1000 bikes (all revving their engines, lovely for the ears), bars and a large stage with bands. A good first night and definitely didn’t see that coming when I had woken up.

The next day was spent at the beach and into a party night. We shaved back my beard to the looks of Ivan Mažuranic whom was the leader of Croatia-Slovenia from 1873-1880 and was the first to be elected by the people. He is famous for his contributions in economics, linguistics, and poetry. His picture is on the front of the 100 kuna note. It’s a great (fun) look, for a little bit at least!

Last day on the island was ‘tour de Brac’, a 6 man brigade on scooters we cruised the island to Bol, to the west side, to the famous peninsula Zlatni Rat beach that is featured in most pictures of Croatia. The beach is listed as one of the top ten in the world. From there we made our way to to the highest point in the Adriatic, Vidova Gora. From the 780 metres lookout there was an excellent view of the beach, turquoise water and islands to the west. An unbelievable sight! Stopping in a quaint town on the sea to the south we dined before returning to Supetar.

Though I could have easily spent another couple of days there I had to make my way to Zadar on the 6th in order to catch the festival bus to Novi Sad on the morning of the 7th. I was fortunate to have a free night’s stay with a very hospitable Croatian family, thanks Alan, and be taken out for the night by my friend’s wife whom was there visiting family.

Journey to EXIT was a 9 hour bus ride, which showed up at the pickup point 45 minutes late and caused a brief bit of panic. The 4 day festival in Petrovaradin fortress had about 50,000 people each day and maybe a few thousand on the campground. The history of the festival is pretty interesting in that it began 10 years ago at a time when Serbians were not able to travel outside of the area and thus a group of university students brought the outside world to them, creating their EXIT. The madness began each day with music at about 7pm and danced into the morning 7-8am. Of course you can imagine that sleeping in a tent after about 7am is near impossible when temperatures are pushing 40 degrees, so we all flocked to the forest, covered areas or any bit of shade that could be found in an attempt to recoup again before the next night. Fortunate to be hanging out with a local Serbian (as well as some Aussies and Hollanders) he took us to a lake about 45 minutes away to chill out, have some amazing local food and of course afternoon pints.  A great escape from the city and camp area!

Though I did not manage to see many of the acts I intended to, due to distance between stages, set time changes and whatever else, I did see Cromeo, Crookers, DJ Shadow, The Horrors, Missy Elliott, Ms Dynamite, Faith No More, Chemical Brothers (about 10 rows back), Crystal Castles, Busy P, SebastiAn, A-Trak (who closed the festival in the dance arena just after 8am on the final day) as well as some other performances on smaller stages. DJ Shadow by far was the best with an excellent video performance the same as I remember from seeing him at Coachella in 2007. World cup final between Spain and the Netherlands was also in the mix and we watched it at one of the stages in the festival, rather disappointing for the huge crowd from the Netherlands and friends I was with. The crowd demographic was fairly young with an overwhelming majority of English in their early 20’s off their faces on whatever chemicals they could find. A fun 5 days!

Also, I did take one afternoon to see Novi Sad. It was a fair city, though I can’t say there were a tonne of sites or anything mind blowing.

Now in Belgrade it is time to relax for a couple days and then check out the city for a couple.

Croatian Capital to Coast

Another day is complete as I sit seaside in Croatia, the sun has set and most have laid their heads to rest in the campground. Those that have yet to, sit peacefully playing cards and enjoying each others company, a very wholesome vibe. I am full of seafood risotto, salad and a couple of beers after a full day of taking my diving course.

I should digress for a moment here and fill in my time thus far in Croatia. I arrived in Zagreb, the capital, on the afternoon of June 24th by train. Coming from Slovenia, this was the first border crossing where I have experienced police/border patrol on the trip (believe it was because I was leaving the European Union). Just prior to entering Croatia the Slovenian officers entered, making a bit of a ruckus. I was in a train car with two English backpackers as well as two French, doing the same. They all received no questioning and simply got exit stamps on their passports. My stamp however did not first come without some questioning as to where I had been, when I had landed, where I had landed, how long I was staying, being warned that I could only spend 90 days over 6 months in the European Union, as well as my details (name, passport number) being radioed in and recorded (presume this had to do with the fact I had been in the EU for about 7 weeks at this point). They also felt a necessity to use a small eye scope to inspect the integrity of my passport. What a way to interrupt my viewing of Slumdog Millionaire! I figured this was it, however it was very soon after we began moving again that another set of officers entered, this time from the Croatian side; my immediate reaction was not positive as I anticipated having to go through the same escapades. Though this was very smooth, all in the train car got stamped and soon after we arrived in Zagreb to blue skies and heat!

Greeted by awesome hostel staff, a mostly ongoing occurrence it seems, the girls moved me from a 10 bed dorm to a 6 bed (for the same price) as they were not full for the next couple of nights. A very nice gesture, anyone having spent time moving hostel to hostel will appreciate and understand this as it reduces the odds of a snorer and anything else that happens in dorm rooms by that much more. Centrally located I took the next day to check out the city’s upper and lower sides and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere which essentially consists of people soaking in the sun on street-side cafes, sipping cappuccinos or drinking beer (time is not relevant here…it’s Europe). By far the greatest site in the city is the cathedral, even more so at night when lit up. It has continued to be added to through the years, including the steeples which were only recently added in 199x. Bit of a shame it is currently under renovation, so big scaffolding impedes part of it.

I had the intention to spend only two nights in Zagreb and then move south and camp outside Plitvice Lakes National Park, however the accommodations were good and moving was simply to much trouble so I instead took the 3rd day as a day trip there, 2 hours each way by bus. As the pictures previously posted show, this place was simply remarkable (please check them out below if you have yet to see them), despite the heavy rains that fell for some time. Let’s just say I was soaked, as the sky was clear in the morning and my instinct said there shall be no rain today.

Sunday it was time to move along and to the Dalmatia Coast! Through rolling hills, flat lands with low lying bush, and winding mountain roads along the cliff side, the bus took 6 hours to get to the coast and into Sibenik. From here I found a bus that was heading south and would pass through Primošten, a short 30 minute ride was unfortunately a little too far from where I wanted to be and had to walk 2 ½ km back to the campground.

The objective of my stay in Primošten is to get my open water diver certificate (scuba diving). Now a few days into the course it has been a great experience spending the last two days in the water and only beginning the journey of seeing the underwater world! Two more days of diving are to come with the last being Saturday morning to 18 meters. The camp is right on the shore and has western exposure, so the sunsets have truly been magnificent. Each day has been over 30 degrees and the water about 20, just perfect for a morning swim after breakfast on the beach. Only negative I must say are the rocky beaches, but not even so much the beaches but I have become a bit accustom to sleeping with rocks jabbing me and creatively finding articles of clothing to pad them at all hours of the night. Regardless, the sleep has not been half bad, on a positive note I’ve had my own space!

I will continue down the coast to an island off of Split called Brac, for 3 nights, beginning Saturday for some good fun, at a hostel called Funky Monkey (how can that not spell a good time?), that will then lead me into festival time! Checking the set times for EXIT Festival with some Australian guys I met in Slovenia a week or so ago (who are also going) it has become apparent that the 4 days will go from about 8pm to 8am each day, should be a blast!