Kotor, Montenegro

We had a gorgeous drive from Trebinje to Kotor today – the scenery is gorgeous around here… it would be a lovely area to explore without being on a tight schedule, I think! Gorgeous! The colour of the water here is just stunning. And here we are at Kotor again. When I was here in 2016, I was kinda disappointed that we weren’t going to Dubrovnik that trip, but now I’ve been there and am back here – I think I prefer Kotor. It’s like a mini-Dubrovnik, similar feel, winding little streets packed with delightful cafes and kooky little shops – but less overtly touristy (I mean, still plenty touristy but less ‘in your fucking GoT loving face!’, touristy).

I remember trying to take a photo of this when I was here last time, but there was always so many people streaming in (this is the main entrance to town under the fortress walls) that I didn’t manage it. I love the old stone work and the carving… I like to think of the hands that crafted these hundreds of years ago, not ever knowing they would stand the test of time the way they have. Oh, and the weird little permanent Christmas shop that I noticed last time I was here, seems to have survived the pandemic! Seriously would not have expected that… was tempted to buy one of these hand painted wooden Santas to take home to show them some support, but I remembered myself and how much I fucking hate Christmas and resisted the temptation admirably. 😛 So after a little wander around, I found myself an out of the way cafe in one of the back windy streets and treated myself to some bruschetta and a spritz so I could just watch the people going by. Kotor is definitely a fun place to be, I’m not sure I’d suggest staying here for a few days, unless you were using it as a base to explore the region, but it is quaint and lovely. Some of our group were mad enough to go for a walk up the fortress walls in 36C heat… there’s quite a bit I’ll do for a photo op, but that ain’t one of them! Have to say, the cruise ships really kinda spoil the view. They should make them anchor around the corner and tender in to port… (like we did when we were on the enormous Regal Princess!) .You can make out the walk that goes around the walls and then up to the mountain to get the views over the city… there’s a small church up the top and apparently it’s not particularly noteworthy, but fuck that walk in this heat!

Usually Simon was full of useful information about the towns we were visiting and the local history etc. On the way into Montenegro, he told us the one thing he said the Montenegrins are s truly proud of was how lazy they were held to be! He said it’s a reputation they revel in, and are absolutely proud to be as lazy as humanly possible. He read us these Montenegrin Commandments (which were on postcards everywhere) and said people here are will do just about anything to get out of doing work…

So in the spirit of embracing my inner Montenegrin, I decided to spend the remainder of our time in town relaxing with more spritzes for the people watching! Having raced around like a mad chook last time I was here, it was nice to be able to just chill and enjoy the scenery.

After our visit to Montenegro, we were back on the bus – poor Kris was stuck in traffic for ages – 50 mins to move 4kms – so we were a bit behind schedule. And it was off to Budva once he managed to get to us.

The drive there was equally beautiful as we wound our way down the coast. Still in Montenegro so no time wasted in border checkpoints.

Budva is a completely unknown quantity to me, having never been there before and knowing very little about the place… but this is what the ‘Budva brochure’ looks like:

There’s a gorgeous old town happily situated on the mouth of the bay, but unfortunately due to our late arrival, we weren’t going to have time to go explore that. The hotel we were staying in was right down on the beach in the ‘Budva Riviera’ which sounds super exotic…. until you realised it’s full of cashed up Russian bogans and it’s fucking Spring Break out there! Our hotel was the dodgiest one on our entire itinerary… when we checked in, we were given a key, remotes for the AC and a television and strict instructions to check everything was working before everyone head out for dinner. When we stepped into the room, it was obvious that people had been smoking in there and there was a super strong smell of bleach – never a good sign! (Undiluted bleach I late found out because my PJ pants fell from a towel rail to the bathroom floor and it stripped all the colour from them – not happy, Jan!).

Anyway, ‘outside’ there was party sounds in every direction. Turns out that Russians own 80% of the real estate in Budva, so that is the primary language spoken here, they are noticeable everywhere with their shaved heads, shiny tracksuit pants, white singlet tops and big gold chains and ubiquitous cigarettes. Though it turns out due to the war in Ukraine, there are not as many Russians travelling here this year as normal, so a lot of the hotels and resorts have had to market really cheap holiday packages aimed at young people all over Europe to put bums on beds this season… so it is kinda chaotic out there.

I had low expectations of a good nights sleep – and those were met admirably by music from several parties reverberating through the hotel until the wee hours.

Sarajevo

Up bright and early from the trip from Belgrade to Sarajevo – the theory being that the sooner we get to the borders (to be processed out of Serbia and then processed into Bosnia) the better. Simon is watching live webcams of the state of the borders on his phone, and he tells us it’s not busy yet.

But all good plans of mice and men are gang aft aglae! We don’t get far out of Belgrade and we run into a wee SNAFU… I say ‘wee’ but it’s gonna fuck up our entire schedule. The cops are pulling over tour buses and going over the driver’s logs to see if they’ve been working more than their regulated hours. Trucks and other commercial vehicles are going past us, but they’ve pulled up three tour buses. At this stage, it’s feeling like the 90s again and we’re going to be pumped for a bribe. But we wait and see… and we wait and see. Poor Chris, our driver, has had to print out a month of driving logs for scrutiny. Next thing we know, Chris is being taken over to the cop cars, we are all asking Simon, how much of a bribe are we going to have to come up with. I’m writing this while looking at the cops outside the bus all standing around looking for problems. And unfortunately they find one!

Chris has recently been on two weeks leave (part of the months worth of records the copy’s wanted) which clearly show the vehicle wasn’t being driven during that time, but it does however show he is logged into he bush – his ID card was in the bus while he is on vacation and that is a no-no. He’s supposed to remove his card when he’s not driving so that no one else can use his log in. No amount of Chris telling them he owns the bus and no one but him drives it is helping and the next thing we know he’s being driven off in the back of the cop car to go to an ATM to pay a fine for leaving his card logged into the bus!

FFS guys, can’t we just pay a bribe and be on our way like the other two buses. Simon literally just said to us all, ‘The other two buses, they were lucky, they just pay a bribe and keep going.’ But no, they had to find something. Eventually he comes back and we are back on our way to the Serbian/Bosnian border.Holy shit! The hilarity doesn’t end there! We are barely 15 minutes down the road in another small town and a cop comes out to the bus while we are stopped at a light and tried to pull the bus over again – Chris argues with him, shows him his fine and the receipt – the cop looks pissed off and dismissively waves us on our way! I’m chatting with BigSal while this is unfolding and she hits me right in the flashbacks to ’95 with this one: “All you need is a Susan the Fruit to talk about how interactions with local law enforcement are good because it’s immersive and you can learn so much about the culture you wouldn’t have seen otherwise!” Laughed out loud at that one.

‘Serbia’s finest.’ Simon says dryly as we once more get back on the road. They must have been in the middle of some sort of ‘harass the tourist bus drivers’ week – and now we are well over an hour delayed for heading to Bosnia.

Passing through Sedmica – a town known for it’s gorgeous blue river with water that is a constant 6-7°C no matter what time of year it is. The country side is pretty enough though. Lots of old buildings, some not so old, all equally full of bullet holes and damage though. Eventually we get to the centre of Sarajevo and this bullet riddled, damaged building is where we pull up the bus for a meeting point. :/ Like many other cities, Sarajevo is a divided town, the Old Town which is full of ancient and medieval buildings, churches, cathedrals, synagogues etc and the other side of the river is the New Town, full of corrupt building projects that locals can’t afford to live in – this seems to be a theme – Belgrade has plenty of these project areas too. This beautiful building is a reconstruction of the original library that was on this site in the Old Town – it was badly damaged during the war and while they have been able to rebuild the library as it once was, many of the ancient and medieval texts it housed were lost forever. The Old Town is full of little winding alleyways on cobblestone streets, it’s like a mixture of Turkish bazaar, and Moroccan kasbah having neither flavour of it’s own nor enough characteristics of either??? (That made sense in my head even if it doesn’t to any other reader!). Bosnian’s are mad for their coffee apparently and white they are adamant they make it a special way that is nothing like the Turkish way of making coffee …. to the untrained eye (ie: mine), it looks exactly like the Turkish way of making coffee! This is the Sebilj Fountain – it was built in the Ottoman style in 1753. It’s one of those legendary fountains that people believe if you drink from this fountain you will return to Sarajevo someday – I guess we are all going to be one time visitors because none of us are drinking anything that isn’t coming out of sealed plastic bottles atm!This was the oldest inn in Sarajevo, it used to be a stop for visitors travelling with their horses, and now the courtyard where visitors would be received is now a thriving restaurant and the stables which lined the courtyard are now shops.You can see the huge wooden beams that made up the stable roofs.I’m also in an intense love/hate relationship with cobblestones this trip thanks to the fibromyalgia I was diagnosed with in 2019… my feet are fucking killing me ALL THE TIME, let alone with the uneven surfaces. The hours on the bus are also not helping and each time we get off the bus, I feel like I’m getting off a long haul flight with slightly swollen feet… normal cobbles are bad enough, but these ones in this town are really just rocks planted in concrete worn smooth, so they’re proving extra fun.

In the middle of the old town is a Mosque, a Synagogue and a Catholic Church, we see here again the one-up-man-ship of each party trying to be superior to the other – part of it is about religion and yet weirdly not about religion at all. Some 70% of Serbians are not practicing any religion, but their religion defines their heritage and ethnicities in a way we just don’t’ really get back home. The Croats are Catholic and Orthodox, the Bosnians are Muslim and the Serbians lost as many as 80,000 of their Jewish during the Srebrinca Genocide (this is really contentious, a huge proportion of Bosnians would never use the term ‘genocide’ to describe what happened to the Jewish people in Serbia- but I don’t know what else it’s called when they’re rounded up into exterminated in mass graves). 😐

The result of this, being religious as a way of identifying your ethnicity while not really being a practicing religious person means that the Fazi Husrev-Beg mosque at the centre of the Old Town is very welcoming to everyone. There are still women’s sides and men’s side and shoes are off and scarves are on, but they are not so strict with their prayer times etc.

It’s a relatively simple mosque with one minaret and a single dome, and was built in the 1500s century. At the time it was built, a very forward thinking engineer/architect suggested they build a public toilet nearby by persuading the imams that they wouldn’t want their workers doing their business all over the ground where their beautiful mosque was going to be – and wouldn’t you know it, the public toilets they built are still there and in operation today, though I’m inclined to think the coin operated turnstiles are a more modern addition.

Ramadan feasting clock – this clock down’s show actual time as we know it – it is set to show when sundown occurs so people fasting know exactly when it’s okay to eat. This is a replica of the famous vehicle that the Archduke Ferdinand was in with his wife, Sofia when he was assassinated , triggering the WWI. Sounds like the entire plot was a bit of a clusterfuck and it was luck that the ragtag team of assassins managed to get anything right. A previous assassination attempt had failed and the various members of the untrained team were sitting around a coffee shop figuring out how they were going to kill him before they got in trouble with their handlers, when the Archduke’s driver took wrong turn and stopped them right in front of the coffee shop in question. One of the assassins opportunistically shot the Archduke, while another tried to immediately kill himself rather than being captured and chomped on an expired cyanide pill that just made him immediately ill, but didn’t kill him… he then ran away spewing his guts up and jumped off the nearby bridge which is barely 4m off the ground and doesn’t have much water in it, so he ended up being apprehended with two broken legs and sick from his failed suicide attempt. And yep, these stupid teenage pricks started a World War. The covered markets in the Old TownCompete with Bosnian Delight stores – not Turkish Delight, mind you, Bosnian… though stuffed if I can spot the difference. After thisThe Catholic Church in the centre of town, which is as big as they could make it in the space that it previously occupied. During the Balkans War (and Iknow this isn’t coming across very well in my pictures) the enemy armies that were attacking Sarajevo would take high positions on the hills around the town… you can see their elevated advantage from nearly every direction around the city. People coming in and out of the churches and shops were at a huge disadvantage trying to move about town to find supplies of water and food.Out front of this church is a pitted piece of concrete which shows the place where some children were killed by snipers. They continue to pain the pitted concrete to remind people of the horrors that happened here.Our guide, said his mother never let him leave the house as a small child in a red t-shirt because it was too easy a target for the snipers… fuck that! I wouldn’t’ have let my kid leave the house at all!

If we hadn’t been held up with the cops for so long this morning I would have possibly tried to go see this exhibit of the Srebrenica Genocide. It is something I am not particularly educated on, and I feel it’s important that people learn about these historical incidents and don’t forget the victims. After our quick (and I mean quick!) walking tour of Sarajevo we had some free time to go shopping, have a poke about and find some dinner. Simon recommended a small restaurant back near the library and instructed us all to try the Cevapi, pronounced ‘cheh-vah-pee’, (basically ‘minced meat fingers), that are served with a doughy pita bread, raw onions and yoghurt drinks. I’m always up for the local food, and they serve them in hands – literally five meat fingers or ten. I opted for a small serve and it was quite tasty – the recipe calls for 80% beef, 20% veal and some salt, so it’s just meat sausage without any skins. After this it was off to our hotel, on the way we saw many many more buildings that were showing signs of the snipers’ handiwork during the war. I don’t know enough about this war – I vaguely remember Milosovich being mentioned a lot in the news, but spending time with Simon hasn’t really cleared it up. With three wearing factions, sometimes each in ally-ship with each other and then spinning on a dime to suddenly be fighting with their former allies, it’s all very complicated. I’m not sure anyone won…