Kotor - Montenegro

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The drive from Dormitor National Park to the bay of Kotor in Montenegro was definitely the nicest scenery we saw on our road trip. Mainly because we crossed the entirety of Montenegro, and went through so many different landscapes. Also, the roads in Montenegro are a lot better than in Bosnia, which was a plus!
Ostrog Monastery
The first stop was the Ostrog Monastery. Established in the 17th century it is nestled within the cliffs near Niksic. Definitely worth a stop if you are in the area. Carrying on we quickly arrived towards the bay of Kotor, which is where the magic happened. I think Rachel would agree that this was the most beautiful area of our entire trip. The bay is a Fjord of sorts, despite looking like a lake, and spreads for 28km with about 100km of shore. If you are driving from the North you will arrive on the west side of the bay, which gives you a great view coming down into the bay.

You will have to drive all around the bay to finally reach the town of Kotor. Kotor is one of the best preserved medieval towns in the Adriatic and a UNESCO world heritage site... and for good reasons. The fortified town is absolutely breathtaking, especially amongst the dramatic mountains. 

Climbing up the fortified walls to the church of Our Lady Of Health.

Picture by Quinton

We stayed in a hostel right in the middle of the old town aptly named: Old Town Hostel. It was really good for the price and location. They offered tours, food and parties for people looking for entertainment. But I think what made Kotor stand out is the friends we met along the way (cheese!!), looking at you Q and Thom!

View from the Hostel
When in Kotor you absolutely need to climb up the fortified walls at sunset and see the bay under it's best light. Which is exactly what we did, with drinks, of course.

Our Lady Of Health from the fortified walls (aka the money shot)

More on Kotor and the end of our trip next time!

Sutjeska National Park - Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Ah.... the hiking day, and what a day that was. I had a chat recently with a friend who pointed out that the stories you tell from your travels are usually from parts you hadn't planned at all. Whether it be about people you couldn't have known you'd meet, places you didn't know existed, or that one time you got stranded on a mountain for 2 hours, 20km away from any form of human life. You know, casual.

Long story short: the mountains were unexpectedly covered in 45cm of snow completely out of season, the guy in charge of the refuge quit (maybe cause he has hella cold) meaning we couldn't stay in our accommodation since there was no heating or electricity, the snow made it impossible for us to climb Maglic, we hiked to the lake below it anyway, we got stranded 20km from any form of life for 2 hours, hiked an extra 8km after already hiking 13km, reached our car and then almost ran out of gas.... BUT it was awesome and I shall illustrate with pictures.

It all started with a rather dodgy 45 min ride in a Land Rover back from the dead:

Our driver dropped us at the beginning of the trail and sent us on our way. We hiked through forests, on cliff edges, on mountain slopes and through fog and snow. This made for a truly breathtaking scenery that doesn't quite translate on camera. Probably because our fingers were too cold to take non blurry pictures...

Hiking to Trnovacko Lake
After hiking a good 13km and feeling rather proud of ourselves (and cold) we were looking forward to getting back to the Land Rover where our lunch awaited us... except the car was nowhere to be seen. There had been a misunderstanding between us and the driver, neither of us speaking each other's language, who thought we'd be back within 3 hours when in fact it was a 4 hour hike. We didn't know this at the time, but after seeing us missing after three hours he decided to go fetch the ranger for help. This took him another 1h30 which is pretty much the length of time we were stranded at the meeting point, in sub zero conditions, thinking we were gonna die (ish). Anyways, we hiked towards the hotel, 20km into the forest, until he turned up and we found a warm car, our lunch, and all was well. 

Driving from Sutjeska to Dormitor National Park
Once we made it back to the hotel we got back in our car and began the drive to the other northern National park, which is across in Montenegro: The Dormitor National Park. This was an amazingly scenic drive as we crossed mountains, corniches and canyons. 
Tara River
The drive between the parks was only 40 km but crossing mountains is the operative phrase here... We expected the drive to take around 1h30 and not to use much gas, but how wrong we were! Since we were driving through hairpins constantly, the drive took a lot longer than expected and used up a lot more gas. Which is when we almost ran out, risking being stranded on a random mountain for the second time that day. Being my father's daughter however, and quite used to almost running out, we employed the "go downhill for 20km without pressing on the gas pedal" technique and got home safe after all. 

I must say that, in hindsight, this is one of my favorite memories of the trip... although we weren't so joyful at the time!

Tara River Canyon
Next time: Crossing Montenegro to reach the Bay of Kotor

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Why hello there, welcome back!

Back in October, I went on a little tour of Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro and Croatia with my cousin Rachel (who also writes an amazing blog: The Paper Napkin). The time has now come for me to share all the pictures, stories, tips and adventures with you guys... so enjoy!

First things first, the plan. I do love a good holiday plan, especially if it involves road trips because it allows you to add so may more things to your map! So here's the final version. We planned to travel around for 9 days starting from Sarajevo. The main destinations were: Sarajevo - Sutjeska National Park - Dormitor National Park - Kotor - Dubrovnik - Mostar - Sarajevo.

The big yellow stars are things not to miss in Bosnia and the red ones are things not to miss in Montenegro / Croatia.

I landed in Sarajevo late in the morning of our first day and met Rachel at the airport. We rented a rather dodgy car (more on that later) and made way to our hostel. The hostel was great by the way: The Doctor's House. It's perched on a hill though so might be a hassle if you are travelling using public transport! Since the weather at the end of October was also rather dodgy, we decided to maximise the good weather of the first day and go on a hike in the mountains behind Sarajevo. Yeah, mountains around Sarajevo, that's the first thing I learnt about Bosnia as soon as I flew in! Mountains, and lots of them...

Mountains behind Sarajevo in the fall
The destination was Skakavac Waterfall (waterfalls seem to be a bit of a theme on the blog these days, but I'm not one to complain). It is easily reachable if you have your own car, as is the case with 60% of the things we have seen and done. I think you could probably do our trip without a car and use public transport / tours, but then you would have to go to Bosnia in season which is in the summer. We went mid-October which isn't even shoulder season, it's like elbow season. But on the plus side, there was nobody there but us!

Hiking towards Skakavac
Skakavac Waterfall (can you spot it?)
Georgeous isn't it? It's roughly a 3 hour hike there and back, relatively easy with mild uphill parts but all on a dirt road. On the way back to our hostel our car broke (only 4hours after it apparently underwent full a technical check might I add) so we had to get it replaced. We swapped for  a much less dodgy one which was an added bonus.

View of Sarajevo from cemetery
The next day we quickly visited Sarajevo's old town, knowing we could do more sightseeing on our return at the end of the trip and made our way to the Sutjeska National Park.

I must admit I was a bit worried about the roads in Bosnia whilst researching itineraries and sights to see. A lot of travel companies will tell you that the roads aren't great and that a 4x4 is needed. But I think that's just to scare you into buying a packaged tour from them. To be honest, the roads were really good. Driving downtown Sarajevo is a bit crazy, but nothing compared to London unless you are planning on driving through the tiny roads near the cemetery, that's a big no no. And the roads in the countrysides have a couple pot holes, but again, not much worse than in Canada after a really cold winter. Oh and then there are landmines... But we only saw the warning ⚠️ landmines sign a couple of times and it was in random back roads between Bosnia and Croatia (shocker we got lost). 

Conditions of roads from Sarajevo to Sutjeska (see not bad!)
In any case, the scenery from Sarajevo to the Sutjeska National Park is really beautiful and well worth the road trip. We arrived at the entrance of the national park and were greeted by a majestic war monument, ready to take on the hike the next day!

War monument at entrance of Sutjeska National Park
Next up: Hiking at the foot of Maglic, in the Sutjeska National Park.

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