Scotland – highlands and haggis

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At Easter time last year my wonderful best friend Sally and I decided to take a trip to the the kilt-wearing, haggis-eating, Mel Gibson-hating land of beautiful Scotland. We jumped on an overnight bus from London to Edinburgh where we met up with another of Sally’s lovely friends, Emma. After a very quick stroll up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle and a ramble through the gorgeous Princes Street gardens it was off to the airport to pick up our hire car and head for the heart of Scotland – stunning Perthshire.

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Edinburgh Castle

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Bagpiper on The Mound

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Greenskeeper’s Cottage – Princes Street Gardens

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Princes Street Garden

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Scott Memorial

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Scottish National Gallery

Our base for the weekend was to be the gorgeous town of Pitlochry where we staying in the charming Rowan’s B&B. But first thing first, it was time to try some haggis! I always love trying the local foods and drinks wherever I travel so it was with some trepidation that we made our way to McKays Bar and Restaurant on the main street of Pitlochry to tuck in to some haggis, neeps and tatties (parsnips and potatoes). And you know what? It wasn’t too bad at all! It was very interestingly presented, with mashed potatoes and parsnips, but I have to say I quite enjoyed it.

For those of you who aren’t sure, according to wikipedia, haggis is “a savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach and simmered for approximately three hours. Most modern commercial haggis is prepared in a sausage casing rather than an actual stomach.”

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Main street of Pitlochry

Pitlochry was the perfect place to stay as we were close to so many beautiful attractions including Blair Castle and Gardens, several Scotch distilleries, other picturesque towns such as Kinloch Rannoch and my personal favourite, Scone Palace.

Blair Castle is the ancient seat of the Dukes and Earls of Atholl and houses a great collection of fascinating historical artefacts, including antique furniture, art, period dress and arms and armour. However, the real highlight is the spectacular gardens.


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Sal and one of the locals

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Just outside of Pitlochry is Edradour distillery, the smallest distillery in Scotland. We had hoped to have a tour of the distillery that usually includes a tasting session, but we just missed the last one of the day. However, that didn’t stop us from buying a few bottles so we could try some on our own time. And once again, it was very enjoyable to try the local beverage, especially alongside some other local produce inlcuding cheese, meats and oatcakes.

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We also took a trip to the nearby town of Kinloch Rannoch because the town is where Sally used to work when she was over here a couple of years ago and therefore had a fondness in her memory. And I could see why, as it was a delightful and very quiet town on the banks of Loch Rannoch and surrounded by mountains.

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Now, as most of you know my home town in Australia is Scone, so we of course had to visit the town of Scone in Scotland and Scone Palace. Scone Palace has an amazing history being the home of the Stone of Scone (also known as the Stone of Destiny) upon which all Scottish Kings were crowned from the 9th century up until Kind Edward I took it in 1296 and placed it within Westminster Abbey. Although, there are some people who believe that monks at Scone hid the real stone so the one that was stolen from Westminster Abbey by students in 1950, subsequently returned and then handed back to Scotland to be kept in Edinburgh Castle  from 1996 isn’t actually the original artifact. Man, I love this history stuff!

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A replica of the Stone of Scone in front of the chapel at Scone Palace

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Ready to be coronated…

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Some of the local Scone residents…


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A stunning albino peacock in the grounds of the palace

If you’re looking for a quiet place to take in the striking scenery of Scotland and sample the best of what the area has to offer, then Pitlochry is the ideal location. I’d also highly recommend the Rowan’s B&B; the hosts are the loveliest people, the rooms are beautiful and the breakfast, divine.

Dublin up: Having the craic for St Paddy’s Day

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So I recently returned from my second trip to Dublin so I thought it was about time I tell you about the awesome time I had there earlier this year for St Patrick’s Day.

This year St Patrick’s Day fell on a Saturday so I felt it was necessary to make the trip to Ireland and celebrate with those who know how to do it best. I booked onto a three-day Paddywagon tour which picked us up nice and early on Friday morning from Kilburn station in London at 6:30am including a bus ride through Wales and the ferry to Dublin.

The green Paddywagon bus

I hit it off with my next door neighbour on the bus, the gorgeous Laura (now one of my faves in London) and we knew we were in for a epic weekend. We met some of our fellow passengers on the ferry ride and made friends playing drinking games – perfect way to get warmed up for a weekend in Dublin for Paddy’s Day.

We scored an upgrade for our accommodation as they didn’t have room in the hostel in town so we were put up in a hotel near the airport (nice!) After a   quick freshen up after the long bus trip we were ready and hit the town. A quick meal and then it was on a to Messrs Macguire, a great pub right near O’Connell Bridge on the banks of the Liffey. They were playing the best cheesy music and the dance floor was the place to be. We couldn’t go too crazy though coz the next day was the big one and we had to be in fine form.

Making friends at Messrs Maguire with Frenchy and Papa

We had a relatively early start, getting all done up in our green to take our places for the St Patrick’s Day parade, the world’s biggest non-military parade with 250,000 participants.  Unfortunately the typical Irish weather arrived and with limited views of the parade we decided to take cover in a nearby pub, really that’s what St Paddy’s day is all about right! Many a drink was had, including a couple of Guinness and we got to experience some traditional Irish music and dancing. We also checked out a bar in Temple Bar, one of the only areas in central Dublin to have maintained it’s medieval appearance with cobblestoned lanes  and is now the main location for Dublin’s nightlife.

Kiss me I’m Irish!

The first Guinness of the day

With two of my absolute favourites – Laura and Sal

Later we ended up back at Messrs Maguire for another evening on the dance floor and mingling with locals and tourists alike. A fantastic day! Those Irish sure know how to party!

On the final day of the tour we had the chance to stroll around Dublin before we made a short trip to the beautiful area of Glendalough (apparently the setting for many Irish films including P.S I Love You) where we took in some fresh air and wandered around amongst the green hills and icy lakes – experiencing the real Ireland.

The Liffey river in Dublin

A babbling brook in Glendalough

In  the afternoon it was back to Dublin for a visit to the famous Guinness brewery where we learned about the Guinness family, how the black beer is made and of course how to drink it. It’s not quite my cup of tea but I forced myself to drink a few – when in Dublin do as the Irish do and drink!

Laura and I in Gravity Bar at the top of the Guinness brewery

Then it was a sleepy overnight ride back to London and the end of what had been an amazing weekend making great new friends, catching up with my favourite Aussie and having great craic!

Barcelona in Pictures

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As I’ve already told you a lot about my time in Barcelona I thought I’d just give you a quick look at the  places I visited and the things I saw:

I did a walking tour that took us to most of the Gaudi buildings in Barcelona. For those who don’t know, Gaudi is one of the most well-known architects in the world and is celebrated for his unique designs, taking many of his inspiration from nature. I thought most of his buildings were absolutely insane but definitely appreciated the individuality of all of them.

Sagrada Familia, the most famous of Gaudi’s buildings. Construction of The Church of the Holy Family commenced in 1882 and when Gaudi died it was only a quarter finished. It is still not complete and probably won’t be for quite a few years. It was one of the most spectacular (and craziest) buildings I’ve ever seen!

Upon completion there will be 18 spires on the church and three facades that all differ in design.

 

Casa Batllo

Casa Batllo, designed by Antoni Gaudi – it was right around the corner from the hostel close to the middle of town. You can take a look inside but the line was huuuuge when I was there and pretty pricey so I gave it a miss but might go next time. 

Casa Mila, another of Gaudi’s crazy designs, was built for a rich couple. Not sure what they put in a house this size…

Casa Mila with it’s weird ice cream cones on top

I also spent quite a lot of time by the water in Barcelona. It was just gorgeous…

The harbour in Barcelona. This would have to be one of my favourite photos I’ve ever taken on my travels

Sunset over the beautiful gothic buildings near the harbour

The beach. Even in late December it was about 22 degrees the day I was there. I was almost tempted to go in for a swim

Don’t usually go to the beach in jeans…

Placa Reial (Royal Plaza) is in the centre of town just off the main street Las Rambas and is surrounded by some amazing restaurants and nightclubs. This is where my Gaudi tour started

La Boqueria Market is just off Las Ramblas and sells the freshest of Barcelona food to the surrounding restaurants and hotels. The food looked amazing!!!!

Lollies!!!!

While  I was on my walking tour I met a lovely girl who invited me to the opera that night. The Liceu Opera House was absolutely stunning.

I spent most of my time there looking at the roof because it was much more interesting than the opera. The rest of the time I was asleep (I’m not lying! It went for 3.5 hours and was in Catalan, can you blame me?)

Anyway, a quick wrap-up for you of my time in Barcelona. As I said, I’m definitely going to go back, I didn’t get a chance to see everything I would’ve liked and didn’t get to check out the nightlife, something I really should do of course! Anyone got suggestions for where I need to go, eat, drink, stay etc…?

A Christmas story: ‘Twas the night after Christmas when it all went to hell

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A bit of a personal story here for you rather than my usual ‘this is where I went, this is what I did’ bit. I love telling this story because, as most good travel stories are, its about being stuck in a terrible situation in a foreign country. Everyone knows how much I love a good story so I thought I had better share it with my followers on the blog. Anyway, enough with intro, let’s get down to the nasty business:

While I was travelling in Eastern Europe I started thinking about what I was going to do for Christmas, as it was only a few weeks away.  At this stage I didn’t know too many people in London and those  that I did know already had plans for trips away or visiting family. I started to panic! It was going to be my first Christmas away from home, what if I was alone in a hostel in a freezing country with no friends, no family, no presents and, worst of all, no Christmas food! And, to add to my state of despair, I realised I would be turning 25 on the 29th of December and would most likely me alone for this as well. Cue sad face :(

Luckily, I was chatting to a friend of mine on Skype who I had met in Brazil (he was from France) who must’ve caught on that I was a bit worried about my lack of Christmas plans and kindly invited me to spend Christmas with him. I was so gracious and very relieved, I would have a friendly face to celebrate with and the chance to travel to France. Yes! I couldn’t believe my luck.

Over the next few days my friend and I kept chatting and put together some plans and decided we’d do some travel while we had the opportunity. This was the planned itinerary: On Christmas Day I would fly to Toulouse in France (where my friend was from), he’d pick me up from the airport and we’d drive a little further south to his family’s holiday house on the coast (his family were spending Christmas in Toulouse), spend the night there then the next morning drive to Barcelona and spend two days there, drive further south to the theme park Port Aventura and spend two days there, the second being my birthday, in the afternoon drive to Andorra, spend the night of my birthday in Andorra and then make our way back to Toulouse for New Year’s and I would fly back to London on the 1st January.

How awesome does that sound? Amazing right?

Well, let’s just say things didn’t quite turn out as planned…

All was going well until we arrived in Barcelona on Boxing Day (26th December). We spent the afternoon wandering around Las Ramblas, the main street of Barcelona, marvelling at Gaudi’s buildings in the centre of town and strolling along the pier looking at the ritzy yachts. In the evening we went back to our hostel to rest before heading out for a late dinner. It was when we were getting ready to go out for dinner that my friend (to be henceforth known as The Grinch) realised that he didn’t have his credit card. The Grinch worked himself into an extreme state of agitation as he ordered me to search everywhere in the room, the bathrooms and the common areas. The meltdown continued when it wasn’t found and it became apparent that it had either been dropped outside or had become the victim of one of the sneaky pick-pockets on Las Ramblas (the latter being likeliest if you ask me). It was when this realisation hit The Grinch that the rage really came to the fore. After calling the pick-pockets every four letter word under the sun (his grasp of curse words in French, English and Spanish was quite impressive!) he calmed down enough to call his bank and cancel his card. It was at this point that I told him not to worry about it, these things happen all the time, and I had plenty of money to pay for the rest of our trip and he could just pay me back when we got to Toulouse. But, unfortunately The Grinch had fallen into such a catatonic state of grumpiness that my offer went unheard but mostly just unappreciated.

I knew that it must be a terrible predicament to find yourself in so I kept reassuring him that all would be well and suggested we head out for dinner, surely tapas and sangria would cheer him up right? Wrong! He sulked the entire way through dinner and completely ignored my attempts to make light of the situation and my continual assurances that I would be fine to pay and the trip could carry on as planned. By the end of the meal it was starting to get a bit old and I started to feel a little frustrated that he was still acting like a petulant child despite the fact that his card had been cancelled, no harm had been done and the trip could carry on. So, I quietly asked, ‘Look, I just wanted to ask if you planned on being like this for the rest of our trip or if you are going to cheer up and enjoy it?’ Perhaps not the most tactful thing I’ve ever said, but boy did it pull him out of his sulk…

‘You are not being supportive enough of me!’ he roared, ‘You don’t understand how this feels!’

He continued to bellow at me about how horrible it was that this had happened to him despite my interruptions to say that the situation couldn’t be improved by worrying and being upset about it. I thought it best we leave the restaurant as we were starting to cause a scene and we walked back to the hostel in complete silence. The silence continued once we made it back to the hostel room and it was after about half an hour of ignoring each other that I finally decided that this was ridiculous and someone needed to say something. ‘Look, I’m really sorry about what happened and I think we can still have a great holiday if we just try to be a bit nicer to each other.’ I expected for him to have calmed down and for him to agree with me. I even half expected an apology. However, I did not expect him to stoically say, ‘No, I’ve decided that this isn’t going to work and I’m going to go back to France tomorrow.’

Confused silence, ‘………….what?’ I asked incredulously. I did not see that coming…

F**k!

24 hours into a 7-day trip and all our well-laid plans were disintegrating. It was the day after Christmas, I hadn’t had a real Christmas because I’ been travelling and my travel companion was deserting me in a foreign country. Excellent!

‘So, you’re 100% sure about this? You don’t want to talk about it? Right, ok’. Shit!

It’s fair to say, I started to panic a little. What should I do now? Should I continue with the planned trip by myself, should I make new plans or should I just go home? A million things were running through my head, I needed to talk this through with someone and sort myself out.

‘Excuse me a moment’, I said, trying to keep my composure, ‘I’m just going to call my mum.’

I walked out into the hallway telling myself to keep thinking positive as it’s the only way positive things will happen, something that funnily enough I had said to The Grinch in passing earlier in the day. I spoke to mum, decided to sleep on it and make a decision in the morning.

When I walked back into the room, clearly upset, The Grinch, with an evil little glint in his eye said to me:

‘So, where’s your positivity now?

I stood there dumbstruck for a moment before my fury finally made its way from the pit of my stomach to my mouth and I spurted my blind hatred at this cruel little man, ‘Well Grinch, obviously you suck the positivity out of everything and everyone around you, so go f**k yourself,’ I spat, shaking with anger. And that was pretty much the last things we said to each other.

I could barely sleep as my rage continued to burn but in the morning I decided I wouldn’t give this jerk the satisfaction of knowing how much he’d thrown me so I pretended that everything was under control and I knew exactly what I was going to do. He packed up his things and, here’s the kicker, I gave him €100 in order to pay for parking and petrol home and then he left. Most people exclaim ‘what the hell did you give him money for?’ when they hear that part of the story but by this stage I wanted this guy gone, out of my life, and I would’ve done anything to make that happen.

In the end I decided to stay for another two days in Barcelona and then changed my flight so I could fly back to London in time to have my birthday at home. Despite all the drama I really liked Barcelona and I will definitely go back one day, most likely by myself.

So there you go, probably the worst experience I’ve ever had while travelling, but, like most bad experiences it makes for a good story.

I hope that nothing like this has never happened to you but would love to hear any horror travel companion stories you have.

Serbia: Keeping Warm with Rakia

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We were expecting it to be almost freezing when we arrived in Belgrade, Serbia, and while it wasn’t exactly warm we didn’t have to deal with snow and ice which is common at that time of year (mid December). We checked into Hedonist Hostel, a cosy hostel right in the centre of town with spacious dorms and great common areas including a neat little kitchen and a fantastic garden area which would be ideal during summer.

Belgrade has had a turbulent past and the city has been destroyed many times over the centuries. This means that much of the architecture is quite modern and the city lacks the old-world charm of many other European cities I’ve visited. I must admit that after visiting Croatia and Bosnia I had a pretty negative opinion of Serbs. The atrocities I had heard of in the previous countries had saddened me deeply and left a bitter feeling towards the former Yugoslavian state. However, after meeting some wonderful Serbian people and hearing more about the history I began to realise that there is no point in holding on to any bias, as most countries have had some involvement in horrific circumstances at some point in their past (think of the massacre of Aborigines in Australia) and deserve the opportunity to change and rebuild as a better nation. Of course this is much easier for me to say than it would be for a Bosnian muslim who’s family were executed during the Bosnian war, or for a Serb who saw the destruction of their city by NATO forces in 1999. Anyway, enough about  politics and more about what we got up to in Belgrade.

On our first day we joined a walking tour of the city which I’d highly recommend - the guide was fantastic! It started in Republic Square, next to the statue of  Prince Milailo III on his horse and across from the National Theatre. We were told that during the NATO bombings in 1999 The National Theatre opened its doors to the public and continued to put on operas, ballets and plays for the people for only 1 dinar – bringing some joy to the city during the 78-days of air raids.

Statue of  Prince Milailo III

National Theatre

Next we visited the bohemian quarter of Belgrade (or Skadarlija) which was once the home of poor artists, musicians and poets who would visit the kafanas (cafes) and inns to drink, discuss their works and listen to music. Today, the cafes still exist and you can eat and drink and be merry just as the gypsies once did.

Bohemian quarter (Skadarlija)

One of the kafanas in the bohemian quarter

Afterwards we made the ascent to Belgrade Fortress (0r Kalemegdan Park), the ancient citadel that sits atop the hill overlooking the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers. It is said that the body of Attila the Hun is buried underneath the fortress. The citadel allows for great views around the city and the park is great for strolling around with many fountains, statues and old buildings to take in.

Monument to ‘The Victor’, the Protector of Belgrade

Ada/Sava Bridge

After the tour, a group of us decided to try out a local restaurant recommended to us by the tour guide. The food was incredible and we tried some of the local spirit, Rakia, in a number of different flavours. As it came in tiny little glasses we assumed that it was meant to be drunk all at once, it wasn’t until several later that we noticed someone else just sipping on it that we realised we’d been doing it all wrong, but by that stage we didn’t really care! After lunch we went back to the bohemian quarter to try some of the kafanas and more rakia and then ended up at a bar that served flavoured beer. A great way to finish off an excellent day in Belgrade.

Enjoying the local cuisine 

Rakia 

Flavoured beer

Interesting note:

During the 1990s Serbia suffered from one of the worst cases of hyperinflation in the world. The economy of the country was completely decimated and many people could not afford to buy food or turn on their heating. The government began to print more and more money which resulted in such a huge level of inflation that the price of products increased 5 quadrillion percent. In the end the government were printing money worth 500 billion dinars!

500 billion dinar note

I didn’t get much of a chance to sample the famous nightlife of Belgrade, although I did have a great night out at a packed salsa bar in the centre of town alongside some fellow travellers. Anyone else got any advice on the best clubs to go to?

Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath

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In March I had a bit of time up my sleeve in between jobs so I decided I ‘d use it to undertake a few tourist activities within England. While I’ve travelled to a number of places in Europe I hadn’t really left London to see other parts of the country.

I was really keen to see Stonehenge and many people had told me that Bath was really nice so I booked onto a tour with Evan Evans tours that went to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath all in a day. Sounds a bit rushed I know, but I thought if there was anywhere I particularly liked I could always come back. That’s the beauty of England, everything is relatively close.

The Evan Evans Tour bus

I jumped on the bus at Victoria station where our guide Mark introduced himself and our bus driver Andreas, who according to Mark was ‘exuding boyish enthusiasm’ for the day ahead (although the next time I saw him he was dead to the world, snoring his head off while we waited to get on the bus after visiting Windsor!) This was just the first taste of Mark’s vivid descriptions of the sites we were visiting, the surrounding areas and the people involved in the stories of each place. He was a riot!

Our first stop was to be Windsor Castle, the largest and oldest continuously inhabited castle in the world. It wasn’t quite what I expected. For some reason I thought it would be out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by rolling green countryside. However it is located smack-bang in the middle of the town of Windsor (funnily enough) with the buildings and shops situated right next to the outer walls.

The outer castle wall with the town of Windsor in the background

Some of the gardens inside the castle walls

A courtyard inside the castle walls

Inside it was utterly spectacular. The rooms were so elaborately decorated that every time I passed into a new chamber my mouth would just drop open. A gorgeous array of artworks, furnishings and fixtures were combined in each room to give each of them a different feel and a unique richness. I could easily imagine ladies in gorgeous gowns being swept around the floor of the elegant ball rooms and lords sitting around the ornate fireplaces, discussing state affairs. Unfortunately you’re not allowed to take images inside so you’ll just have to use your imagination.

I also saw the changing of the guards, which wasn’t quite the spectacle of the Buckingham Palace ceremony but pretty cool nonetheless.

Changing of the guards

Being a bit of a myths and legends nerd I have always been fascinated with the mysteries of Stonehenge. It amazes me that there is still so much we don’t understand about Stonehenge. The half-ruined ring of colossal stones are located on the Salisbury plains a couple of hours south west of London. Construction began at Stonehenge about 3000 BC and consisted of around 160 stones, some of them 8 metres tall and weighing up to 50 tonnes. No one really knows why it was built, what purpose it served and how the larger rocks were moved. The stones used to construct the inner circle are blue stones which come from the south of Wales 150 miles away and weigh about 7 tonnes each.

It was a similar feeling to seeing Machu Picchu for the first time; you’ve seen it a million times on TV or in magazines but seeing it for yourself is something entirely different. It doesn’t take long to wander around the outside of the circle of stones and take it in from every angle, but it was still impressive I thought. Particularly when you think about the huge amount of manpower that goes into constructing something like this and how they managed to do it 5000 years ago.

Next up was the gorgeous town of Bath. I could spend quite a few days in the city of Bath however we only had the afternoon which meant a quick trip through the Roman Baths and a stroll alongside the river was about all we had time for. The baths were a sight to behold with the golden limestone contrasting beautifully beside the green water of the baths. It was really interesting wandering through the different rooms and reading what each was used for, including my favourite, a room with ancient under floor heating. Nice!

The town itself is quite quaint with lots of small boutique shops and cozy cafes. The walk alongside the river was very pleasant and once again I was blessed with brilliant weather (for that time of year) for the entire day.

I know there’s quite a few things I missed out on in Bath such as the Jane Austen centre so let me know if you think there’s something I must go back and see :)

Bosnia: The Bold and The Balkans

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I had never even thought to go to Bosnia, in fact I didn’t know anything about the place apart from the fact it had been involved in a war sometime in the not too distant past. I have to thank Bec for suggesting that we go there because it was one of the most incredible places I have been – such an eye opener!

The first town we went to was Mostar, where we stayed at Hostel Nina. Nina’s mother (I’m sorry I’ve forgotten your name) picked us up from the bus station and drove us back to the hostel which was really lovely. Even during the drive back to the hostel I was absolutely gob-smacked, so many of the buildings were damaged beyond repair from the conflict in the 1990s and there were bullet holes everywhere. Nina’s mother would point to a mostly destroyed building and offhandedly say something like ‘that used to be a shopping centre’. At one point we were sitting at traffic lights when she told us the intersection was the frontline during the war. I just couldn’t believe how apparent the war still was and was saddened to think that the locals would have to walk past these reminders everyday.

One of the derelict buildings damaged during the war

Bulletholes cover the front of many of the buildings in the centre of town

This beautiful building was completely razed inside

To give you a bit of background, pretty much the whole town of Mostar was destroyed during the war in 1992-1995 after Bosnia and Herzegovina declared their independence from Yugoslavia and was subjected to an 18 month siege. Many of the the towns ancient monuments were destroyed when the Yugoslav People’s Army bombed the area, and most devastatingly the symbol of the town, the Old Bridge, was demolished.

After checking in to the hostel we went out to explore the gorgeous town of Mostar, named after the bridge keepers (mostari) who in medieval times guarded the Stari Most (Old Bridge). The Old Bridge, which was first built in the 16th century, is the most recognisable landmark in the town and much of the history of the area surrounds this amazing structure. You can tell why it is so important to the town because it is absolutely remarkable in it’s design and beauty. It is a perfect archway over the gorgeous Neretva river which runs through the town. Apparently it was commissioned to be built by a guy called Suleiman the Magnificent who was said to be pretty terrifying. When the scaffolding was ready to be taken away from bridge on completion many of the workers abandoned the town because they believed it would fall into the river and the architect also prepared himself for death. So when it didn’t fall down the remaining workers were so happy they dove off the bridge into the water 25 meters below. This is where the tradition of bridge diving started in Mostar and it is still a proud tradition today, with father’s passing the skill onto their sons throughout the generations.

Mostar

Stari Most (Old Bridge)

On the bridge

The view from the bridge

Our guide Zica used to be a bridge diver  and said that while there used to be a bridge diver in every family, now there are only 20-25 in the whole town and only five of them dare to dive head first off the bridge.  The divers have tattoos to show that they are one of those who are brave enough to take the plunge, but these days diving is more of a way to earn some cash from tourists than as a tradition. It is obvious from the way Zica talks about the bridge that it is a very important part of the towns history and culture. As I said, it was deliberately attacked during the war and was destroyed after 60 shells were fired at it. This must have been a huge blow to the people of Mostar and such a terrible shame as it was classified as one of the greatest architectural works of its time. After the war a reconstruction project commenced and the bridge was completed in 2004 and is now World Heritage Listed.

Several mosques also remain within the Old City which were built during the Ottoman reign and there are also some striking buildings from the Austro-Hungarian period. We visited the Karadoz-bey Mosque which is the most important monumental work of Islamic sacred architecture from the 16th century. We also wandered the cobbled street of the Old Town and browsed through the shops which had some stunning jewellery and textiles. Bec and I both bought some gorgeous earrings and pashminas which were ridiculously cheap. Zica told us that the economy in Mostar and Bosnia in general is really struggling with a huge percentage of people unemployed so tourism is really important for bringing money into the town (something I was only too happy to support!). I was particularly happy to spend my money on the delicious food that Bosnia has on offer. Almost all of their dishes are made with meat and are extremely hearty (and absolutely divine!) We tried dolma (stuffed grape leaves with rice), japrak (grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice), cevapi (Bosnian kebabs: small grilled meat sausages made of lamb and beef mix; served with onions, sour cream, ajvar and Bosnian pita bread) and many other exquisite morsels. Oh, and of course baklava! Oh my god, it was to die for! Baklava and a rakija (Balkan liqueur) was a daily neccessity.

Karadoz-bey Mosque

A mix of Bosnian delicacies

Baklava!

I always recommend Mostar to everyone because it is such a beautiful town with such an amazing history. I also recommend Hostel Nina. Nina and her mother were so friendly and kind. They also organised a tour of the surrounding area for us with Nina’s husband Zica who was one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met, his stories were just incredible. Zica was injured two times during the war. The first time he was hit by grenade shrapnel and spent a month in a temporary hospital and the second time he was shot by a sniper. During the siege Zica hid in his parents basement and during the night he would go out to find food and drinkable water.

Zica also took us on a tour of the surrounding area. We first stopped at a traditional burek restaurant where they make the delicious Bosnian pastry. It can be made with cheese and spinach but the one we had was lamb. It was a bit heavy for breakfast, but extremely scrumptious!

Lamb burek

The tour went to some of the areas nearby Mostar and was extremely interesting. Zica tells some amazing stories about the different places you visit and the countryside is very beautiful. First we stopped at the town of Blagaj where the Blagaj Tekke, a spectacular Ottoman guesthouse, has been built against a cliff from which the source of the Buna river flows, apparently it is the finest example of an underground karst river. The water from the river at this spot was said to have magical properties, so of course Bec and I took a sip.

Blagaj Tekke

We then travelled to Pocitelj, a unique UNESCO heritage site on the bank of the Neretva which was once an important administrative centre during the Middle Ages. The fortified town is one of the best preserved settlements from ancient times (1400s) and features an incredibly well maintained clock-tower, mosque, and citadel. Despite the town being severely damaged during the Bosnian war, some inhabitants remain within the town, living in the gorgeous stone houses that exist inside the fortified walls.

Overlooking Pocitelj

The view from the citadel

Looking out from the citadel

The Pocitelj mosque

Next up was a visit to Kravice waterfalls which had a beautiful swimming hole – would have been brilliant during summer.

Bec and I at Kravice waterfalls. If only it was 20 degrees warmer!

And lastly we stopped at Medjugorje, what was once a small village that has now become a site visited by millions of faithful Catholics from all over the world thanks to a group of teenagers who claim  the Virgin Mary appeared before them in the hills near the town in 1981. They’ve had to build rows upon row of seats and confessionals outside the church to host the huge crowds that descend on the town and you can pick up tacky religious souvenirs in the multitude of shops that now exist on the main street. Not my favourite place in the world to say the least.

Confessional after confessional. Confess your sins in any language.

 The seats outside the church where massive masses can be held.

Sarajevo

To me, Sarajevo appeared to be a pretty cold, harsh city. After learning more about the history of the city and the horrors that the residents faced during the 1990s conflict I came to understand why. What I wasn’t expecting was the warmth of the people who live there now and their generosity towards strangers.

Sarajevo is the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina and has been struggling to rebuild its economy since the 1990s. Despite my first impression of the city I soon realised that there was some spectacular architecture, both Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian, that gives the city an ageless beauty. Unfortunately you can still see the scars left behind by the war; buildings pockmarked by bulletholes, piles of rubble and holes in the footpath. These holes are often painted red and are called ‘Sarajevo Roses’, signifying where somebody was shot down during the conflict, usually by a Serbian sniper from the surrounding hills.

A ‘Sarajevo Rose’. One of the places someone was killed during the 1990s conflict.

Bec and I did a walking tour which I highly recommend. The guide was extremely informative and took us to some of the more important places that had special significance during the war and also showed us the historical buildings within the city. Another interesting place we visited was the place where the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated, triggering the start of World War 1.

Roman Catholic Cathedral of Jesus’ Heart

Mosque near the Old Town

The Latin Bridge. The corner where Frans Ferdinand was assassinated. 

The Old Town is like a huge bizarre with selllers bargaining with tourists for jewellery, clothes and copper products and I found it was possible to wander the cobbelestoned streets for hours.

Street in the Old Town

As I said, the locals were some of the warmest people I’ve come across. At one point, Bec and I were at a cute little restaurant for dinner (as usual the food was amazing) and after finishing our meals a bottle of wine and two desserts arrived without us ordering them. We were told that a group of older people sitting at the back of the restaurant had sent them to us as a kind of welcome and thank you for coming, I was shocked by the generosity, but as I said previously, Bosnians are extremely thankful to tourists because their economy relies heavily upon us. Just in case you were wondering, the dessert was amazing! Of course!

I’d love to hear if anyone else out there had never considered Bosnia as a place to visit. I hope I’ve changed your mind :)

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