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Published: July 11th 2007
In our ongoing travels east, we've now made it to the former states of the Yugoslav Republic. The Republic disintegrated in much bloodshed only 15 years ago. We've already visited Slovenia and found it very prosperous and relatively untouched by the conflict (they were the first to break away from the Republic, and did so with minimal conflict). We had a great time in Slovenia and were keen to explore the other ex-Yugoslav states.
So on to Croatia! Our ferry from Ancona came into Zadar, a nice enough place but only a pitstop before heading inland. One thing to note is that on arriving at a new place we typically have no idea where we are or where to go, but thanks to a handy leaving gift of a compass (thanks Justin!!) we had no problem orienteering our way through the city streets of Zadar. Even if it did come with a few strange looks from the locals. Still, we found our way to the bus station for our 2 hour wait for the bus to Plitvice. It was while we were waiting that we realised we are well and truly back in Eastern Europe, when we watched with
The huge fortress commanding the hilltop and overlooking the Sava and Danube Rivers in Belgrade
morbid fascination a man devouring half a goat (or so it seemed) for breakfast. No bread, no veg, just a goat.
Anyway moving on... We saw a documentary a couple of years ago about the Plitvice Lakes National Park, and have been wanting to see it ever since. Plitvice is a unique place, with hundreds of lakes all at different levels and all connected by hundreds of waterfalls. It was truly magical. We spent a few days walking the lakeside paths, looking out for bears and dodging snakes (more snakes!!!)
While getting to Plitvice was easy enough, finding our way from Plitvice to Split turned out to be a small adventure in itself. There is apparently a bus, but we never saw it. After waiting for many hours with 5 other hopefuls (see, we didn't get the timetable wrong) we haggled with a local taxi to take us the 3 and a half hour drive to Split.
Expecting a grotty port town like Ancona, Split turned out to be beautiful town with a fantastic old centre. They have recently redesigned their harbourside promenade, and it was really buzzing with locals out for a stroll. The reason we
were in Split was to board our exciting backpacker cruise, 7 days of island-hopping through the Adriatic Sea.
For the following week we had the stressful task of sunbathing, swimming off the boat, exploring fantastic old towns and eating awesome food. We had a cool bunch of people on our boat (kiwis, saffas and aussies), and it was nice to be able to speak english for a while.
A week of cruising seemed to go surprisingly fast, and before we knew it we were heading further east and into Bosnia and Hercegovina. It was quite a contrast to the almost western country of Croatia. Although Croatia did see a fair bit of fighting all that we could see was the occasional rusted tank and the odd destroyed or damaged building. In Bosnia the scars of war were still very fresh and visible.
Our first stop was Mostar, famous for it's Stari Most or Old Bridge. Despite being almost completely destroyed, the town is really springing back. Amongst the bullet riddled and bombed out buildings, new and repaired ones are popping up everwhere. Even with such a recent and bloody past the locals that we met were some
Crazy bugger jumping
The annual bridge jumping competition has resumed in Mostar, where willing young men jump off this 30ft high bridge. Some to impress the ladies, others for hard cash.
of the friendliest that we have met so far. Everyone we spoke to was really positive about the future, and excited to see the tourists return.
Sarajevo did not seem to have as many ruins as Mostar, but the bullet riddled building remain and there are other more disturbing reminders of the recent past. On most hills surrounding the city there were vast graveyards all shining with new marble. Another incredibly resilient city though, and like Mostar is slowly recovering. The city is really taking on a sense of normailty with cool cafes and trendy bars and clubs.
Our last stop in the broken Republic is the city that most recently saw conflict - Belgrade. It was a ridiculously long bus journey to get there, but well worth it. Not the most attractive city but the biggest city we've been in for quite a while. What really took us back was the buzz of activity. All over the city there were packed out bars, people out shopping or just out for a stroll and a gossip. It just seemed like no one was actually doing any work.
All in all, it has been an eye-opening few weeks
The restored old town of Mostar
with so many contrasts. Despite their bloody past it is such an exciting place to be. It has made us realise how lucky we are to have grown up in a peaceful country.
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