Bosnia & Montenegro - 2006

(with a little bit of Croatia and Serbia)

This is our notes from a 2 week autum trip to mainly Bosnia and Montenegro - and a few days in Serbia and Croatia. Erik, Birgitte and our two children Anders (2½) and Johanne (1).
Literature: We used the 2006, 1. Edition of Lonely Planet: Western Balkans - it was very useful and covered the countries we were visiting.

Route is marked with the red line on the map.

Currency converter:
Bosnia: 1€ = 2 KM (Konvertible Mark)
Croatia: 1€ = 7,40 HRK Croatia Kuna = 7,40 Danish Kroner
Montenegro: Uses Euro
Serbia: 1€=82 Dinars

Sunday 3.9.2006
Flight from Billund (Denmark), one hour drive from our home in Århus. A late afternoon flight 16:05 to Munich and on to Sarajevo in Bosnia - arrival 21:15. The airport is small, so our luggage came quick. There was one ATM at the exit which was good since it was Sunday evening.  Had to pay 15€/30KM to get into the centre - about 12-15 kilometres. We had a reservation at
Guest House Halvat - recommended in Lonely Planet. Got the "penthouse" apartment next door, belonging to the manager.

Monday 4.9. Sarajevo, Bosnia
We had paid extra 30€ to get our stroller on the plane, and we quickly put it back in the room - it was impossible to use at all - cars parking on the sidewalk, no sidewalk etc. It turned out to be like this on the entire trip, so we ended up using our child carriers all the time - which was fine both for us and the children.
The centre is called Bascarsija. First we went to the Latin Bridge where Franz Ferdinand was killed and started the First World War.

We went along the river and spoke with old ladies in the park. After lunch: Sebilj, Gazi-Husrevbey Mosque with a quiet plaza in the busy city. Our daily coffee and ice on one of the hundreds of cosy cafés along the Ferhadija - the main pedestrian street. Saw 'Sarajevo roses' a couple of places - a reminder of the deadly daily life here just a few years back. Saw the Catholic Cathedral, the Orthodox Cathedral and chess players on Trg Oslobodenja. We really enjoyed Sarajevo. The guesthouse is in the east end and as you move west-east, the houses change a lot. Close to the guesthouse there were hundreds of small shops.
One observation we made - we saw tourists - but none from Western Europe.

Tuesday 5.9. Sarajevo
Took the no.3 tram to the end station Ilidza and took a taxi (10 KM) to Butmir Tunnel Museum. A 20 minutes film showed the bombardment of Sarajevo and the use of the tunnel. The museum is at one end of the original tunnel, and a small section of the tunnel is still there. I had thought it was a tunnel under a mountain, but no, the idea was that it went under the UN controlled airport - 800 meters after which there were trenches the rest of the way to the Igman mountain - the only mountain not controlled by the Serbian army. Our taxi driver had been through it 20 times - he was a Bosnian soldier, which were those who made it.
After lunch and afternoon nap, we went to the Svrzo house (not marked correctly on the map in LP). It is a 18 century Muslim family house, well preserved. Afterwards we had Cevapcici at the Zeljo (small, rolled pieces of spiced, minced lamb meat).

Wednesday 6.9. Sarajevo - Mostar
Observation: You see no children - and no babies at all - but all (especially elderly) are very keen to talk to our children.
I took a taxi to the airport (15KM) where we got a jeep instead of the compact wagon we had booked. It costs us 750€ for 12 days, including insurance.  Had to go back to the city since they had forgotten the children's seats. It was not a problem since Birgitte and the children were at the hotel.
It was very hot today - maybe 30+ degrees. The trip to Mostar was very beautiful. We left at about 11:30 and were in Mostar a couple of hours later. The war damages are much more visible here - especially along the 'Boulevar', which was the front line when Muslims and Christians fought - after being united on expelling the Serbs. Many houses are repaired or rebuilt, but many totally ruined - or with shot holes - e.g. the Catholic Church close to the Mostar Bridge.
We check in at the
Kriva cuprija , which is 100 meters from the 'old bridge'.  The bridge was build in 1566, destroyed November 1993 - and the new one was finished in 2004 using the stones from the same quary.  The room was fine - baby cot, AC and 2 rooms (60€).
Very cosy in the 'bridge-area', people were only coming out to dine after 20, so we were the first to eat at our hotel (which has a nice restaurant as well). Most of the nearby are is well lit, and cafes and restaurants all around.


Thursday 7.9. Medugorje
First we went past Blagaj, 15 km south east of Mostar. At a place where the river springs out of the cliffs is a 16th century Tekija - a Dervish monastery. A beautiful place, but the monastery is not so interesting (it costs 2KM to enter). Didn't find out what it was (strange experience :-), but maybe a kind of Muslim sect? LP didn't explain it. Took a look at the Internet, maybe it has some kind of relation to the 'spinners' one see from Istanbul (readers: please enlighten me).
Next: Medugorje. A strange place.  The Virgin Mary spoke to 6 teenagers in 1981, who still sees and received messages. Very hot - 29-30 degrees, at least. Hat a good lunch at one of the many Italian places. Lots of busses with old people from Poland, Italy and other catholic countries.  Read more about Medugorje here:
The church is not so impressive, but then again, it is not the building that is the attraction. 'The weeping Knee statue': We were sitting and watching old ladies stretch up to wipe pictures of Mary, handkerchiefs etc. on the knee of a tall bronze statue of Christ.  When we went on, I went closer to the statue - and behold! There was actually water drops on the knee!  Afterwards we put the children in the backpacks and walked to the Apparition Hill where the teenagers had the vision - it is a short walk, about 15 minutes each way plus it is a couple of kilometres from the church. Also many people here.
We agreed that there wasn't much we Protestants could use from this place, but also that we could not dismiss that visions did take place here.
Back in Mostar - fed the children and had dinner in town, alone. A beautiful, moonlit, warm evening.

View from Apperation Hill

Friday 8.9. Dubrovnik / Croatia
The waitress had yesterday said 'bye, bye' many times to the children and this Anders associates with Teletubbies - and one of the few words he can say. So when she this morning came and embraced him, he was astonished and could only say: Oh, oh! - A well known phrase from Teletubbies...
We left at 9:15 from Mostar. Decided to take the inland route to Trebinje instead of following the coast in Croatia. It was a beautiful drive. The special thing about Bosnia is that even a small village has a cemetery. Even 10 houses have one. Makes you think of what happened here. This is quite different in Croatia and Montenegro where there is no evidence left.
Suddenly we were in 'Republica Srpska' (RS) - a third of Bosnia, which is mainly Serbs - and, everything in Cyrillic.  Confusing until we learned to decipher the letters.
In Trebinje for lunch. Big plazas, no tourists, many people in the cafés. After some time we found the Ottoman Arslanagic Bridge from 1574. 20 minutes to the border to Croatia and splendid views over the Adriatic ocean.
Found the hotel we had reserved, but there was a letter that we should move to the sister hotel, Miceta. About 100€. I had spend many evenings back home trying to find a good cheap hotel, but could find nothing under 100€ - this was the most we paid for the smallest room. Yes, the prices were about double that of Bosnia. A Coca-Cola costs 19KM (3€) in a restaurant - it would be about 1-1½€ in Bosnia. A trip to the pools with the children and went with the car to the old town at about 17:00. We thought there were a lot of people, but have to admit it was a pretty place. Had a coffee, walked around a bit and ended with dinner at the harbour. After the children had fallen asleep, we watched the tourists with their green fluorescent 'all inclusive' bracelets. At the pools they could drink 4 kinds of coloured juices and in the evening they could choose from 4 kinds of cider liquor... The hotel chain,
Babinkuk, had this evening a big event in the neighbour hotels. Rock bands transmitted on big screens, lesser local troubadours (one group was actually very talented). A trailer with 6 sheep being roasted, small shops, hundreds of people. Very kitsch, but we were sure that our parents would have enjoyed it. Actually, the majority of the people here were 60+ - probably because it is September. Mainly French, Italians and Germans.

Saturday 9.9. Dubrovnik - Petrovac (Montenegro)
About breakfast here at Miceta: Many things to choose from and lots of it. The coffee was filled onto machines from big metal buckets. Today it was windy and we walked down to the beach, but it was empty except for a couple of wind surfers. We took the car into town again today - BIG mistake. Drove around for an hour in circles looking for a place to park - 3 rounds. Ended up somewhat out and walked back. 3 cruise ships were in and busses with no.17 and no.44 came in one after another.  The guidebook and articles say 'the tourism has started to return to Croatia' - a new meaning to under statement.  We walked shoulder to shoulder with millions of people - all in a claustrophobically chaos. This could have been Delhi in festival time. Had been looking forward to walking on the city walls, but we didn't want to pay the 140 KN (20€) and the sun was also burning down now. Saw the Franciscan monastery / church, but we skipped the other places - it cost a lot for each place to visit.
Half an hour to the Montenegrin border and half an hour wait to cross. Had been 25 hours in Croatia - plenty! (And enough for Erik to have Croatia recognised as his 41 country in
the Travelers Guild).
Surprised that it was over with the Cyrillic signs like in RS. Herceg Novi, Tivat, ferry across the strait, Budva to Petrovac. Several tourist busses until Budva - most probably for Kotor. After Budva, we saw very few from Western Europe.
At Vile Oliva (booked through their mother company
Budvanska Rivijera) they had to call the manager - we had not noticed we needed to reconfirm our reservation - but we got a nice apartment for 50€ including half pension (7€).  Most people here were Russians and a few Serbs. Dinner was funny - one has to check a menu off for the next day’s dinner - in Serbian or Russian. The seats at the tables are then 'fixed' so we had to sit with the children on our laps. But the couple from our table was also Russian and the man could speak a little German. We had the receptionist translate to English, so it worked out fine.

Sunday 10.9. Petrovac
In general we didn't see any from Western Europe here (heard a couple of French from the neighbour hotel) - it is all Serbian and Russian that is heard.
Breakfast: Sausages and scrambled eggs - the sausages had to be presses out of plastic skin - haven't seen that before, but it was like that in most of Montenegro. Went for a walk to check out the two beaches that were close to Petrovac. Relaxing at the balcony, washing clothes, shopping and lunch. After siesta we went to the 'south' beach and enjoyed the 26 degrees air and warm water. There were people at the beach, but as one guy from Belgrade pointed out: this is a good time and he felt the place as almost empty.

Monday 11.9. (5 years day of the 11/9 attack). Cetinje and Kotor
Excursion day. From Budva one drives up to 1200 Meters and in the Black Mountains you find Cetinje - the former capital. Strange town with old, big colonial buildings (former embassies), every other shop is a ruin (not a war ruin, but just neglected), every other is a cosy cafe. Didn't go to any of the museums, but there were several to choose from. 10-15 tour busses here. A small road leads north and then west to Kotor, through the mountains. It is definitely on my top 5 of most scenic roads in the world. It then descends down to Kotor. Kotor is probably the most famous place in Montenegro. We were there at 15:00 for coffee and liked the old town immediately. It reminds one of Dubrovnik, just much smaller and not so 'tidy. I think we also were thrilled because we saw hardly any tourists, but it was probably because the time of the day. The tour busses we saw in Cetinje have most likely been here first. We didn't enter any of the places, but traversed the labyrinths - and filmed our children chasing pigeons on the small squares.

Kotor Google's Kotor 

Tuesday 12.9 Petrovac
At the south beach until lunch. Lovely 26 degrees. Totally exhausted chasing our children - it is hard work at the beach with 2 toddlers. In the afternoon we drove to the monastery in the bay south of Petrovac. Beautiful and richly decorated. Views over the Adriatic Sea.

Wednesday 13.9 Zabljak (Durmitor)
Left at 9:30. Crossed the pass and passed Skandra lake - the children slept, so we didn't stop. Through Podgorica - the only place 'level' - all the rest of Montenegro is mountains. We were going to Durmitor in the north west of Montenegro, and it was kind of hard to see on the map, which was the best way to travel. We chose to drive north - a good choice - the road was through a canyon all the way - reminding us of places we have been through in the Mid West in USA.  In Mioska we took a small road northwest over a 1560 m pass and on to Boan, a micro way to Bukovica (10 kilometres) and north to Zabljak - the major village close to Durmitor. The last part was through plains. What a beautiful drive! Zabljak is like a town built in the 60'ies and not upgraded since. First we found Planinka, but after seeing the room, we decided it was too gloomy and dark a place. The Hotel Jezera was somewhat better, but not fantastic. It cost 46€ with half pension. We were there at about 14:00, so it was one of the few days where we had had a long drive. We took a drive to the Durmitor Park (just a few kilometres down the road and bought a trekking map and paid to get in - and then the gates of heaven opened up and poured down on us. Did we get soaked, though we all had raincoats! We never made it to the lake, just a small stroll from the entrance.
In the evening we did map studies about tomorrows trek.

Thursday 14.9 Durmitor
Zabljak is sad and rundown. The mountain massif nearby is of course the reason you are here, so it doesn't matter that much. The hotel is like what I imagine it must have been in an old state driven communist hotel. The employees are not in a hurry and often just sit and smoke. For supper the waiter repeated five times in Serbian the menu - for the 10 guests of which 8 were German/English speaking - at the end I just told her that I was sorry that I didn't understand it. She shrugged and shoved me a menu card where it said 'pork chops' - which was fine with me. But the headwaiter and the receptionist spoke ok English.
BEAUTIFUL sunshine day. We left at 10. No one at the Black Lake - the starting point for most walks in the park. 1350 m altitude. The paths were remarkable well marked, but we also found out that they were a bit challenging - especially with the children on our backs. After one hour we passed the tree limit. Lunch in a big amphitheatre of peaks (Lokvice)- right of the prominent Meded Peak. Next was a very hard ascent up to the Ice Cave (ledena pecina). We were there at 15:00. It is in about 2.150 meters, so it had been almost a kilometre in altitude gain. The weather was still beautiful and a fabulous views to the north, west and south. We were getting weary and the northern route down was tougher and rockier than the way we came. But still we managed to be back at the lake at 18:00. With big smiles we finished the trip (ok, Anders didn't enjoy the last hour). Tired legs and children - Anders could hardly walk because his legs were sleeping.
After the children went to sleep, we had a drink in the bar (2€) and planned for a long time the last few days. Until Petrovac we had planned most beforehand, but here we had a few options. We had planned on staying a day more here in Durmitor, but we could also feel in our legs that we were not going for a long walk tomorrow. So we decided to take a couple of days in Serbia, more precisely: Zlatibor.


riday 15.9 Zlatibor - Serbia
It was cloudy today - good we did the hike yesterday. We left at 9:00 and spend 1½ hour looking for the viewpoint Curevac over the Tara Canyon - one of the other highlights of the area. The Tara is running 1300 meters down in a canyon, so it is pretty impressive - a good place for rafting. But we didn't find it! We could see it on our trekking map, but where to find the path in the middle of a wood was not easy. It is still a mystery to us. We did see the river from another viewpoint. Drove to Serbia via Pljevlja - an industrial town with a big open coal mine.  We reached the Serbian border at noon - the border was on top of a high pass. Had lunch in Prijepolje where there were 2 minarets - we kind of thought there would be no Muslims in Serbia, but were obviously wrong. Nobody understood a word of English and I tried for a long time to explain for the waiter that we wanted water (forgot it was called 'voda' - it was not in the guide book vocabulary) - I tried 'water', 'wasser', 'agua' and pointing at the river :-). Serbian uses jet another currency - the Dinar, so we changed 100€ in a bank.
Towards Zlatibor, a lot of road 'straightening' was taking place - new bridges and wider roads - and there was always a truck with coal in front us, so it took some time. Zlatibor is actually the name of the 'hills' in this area - it took me quite some time to find it on the map, but it is because the town is named Partizanske Vode or Kraljeve Vode there.  We were there 14:30. The area is special - bare hills all over - perfect for skiing, and it is also more visited in winters because of that. I had thought it was like Durmitor, but it was nothing like it.  Birgitte called it a 'Djurs Sommerland' for Serbs. Found a great hotel (4 Star) - Jugopetrol for 4000 Dinars (about 50€). Almost luxury. Had a coffee and ice in town and walked around a bit. Everywhere - and not even the young - understood a word of English. Had dinner at a good place in town where they had an ope
n grill with all kinds of meats.

Saturday 16.9 Zlatibor
A funny observations: The preferred way to dress in Zlatibor: Jogging clothes - and often matching for the whole family.
Outside town we see two kinds of vehicles: Lada (yellow preferred) and tractors. We also saw one Trabant.
We drove to 'Sirogojno'. An outdoor museum (like 'Hjerl Hede') reconstruction of a 19 century Serbian village. Half of the houses were locked and it wasn't that interesting.  Birgitte thought the drive through the bare hills was exceptional pretty. It is 24 km east of Zlatibor. Lad lunch in the small village afterwards.

I had planned on going to a Cave outside Uzice - Potpecka Pecina, but we found out that there was a big cave in the neighbour village - Stopica cave. It was a special experience. The last 2 km was on a gravel road, then 'rock' road and then it suddenly ended in two houses. It had been well marked with signs in the beginning. The man there was fixing his VW and said a lot (friendly) and then asked: 'sprechen Sie Deutsch?', which I confirmed - it then turned out it was the only he could say in German :-)
He showed me a small unmarked path 30 meters before his fence. We walked downhill towards a stream and tried to follow all branches of the path, but didn't find a cave (only a small one, which we entered so we could pronounce to Anders that this was what we had been walking so long for - he seemed pleased). We also met another family walking aimlessly around. Almost back, I took another path, which seemed 'blocked' and at the stream I could see a bare cliff wall and a small stream came down from there. I followed it and behold: the cave! - with a 20 meter wide, locked fence. But I found it. So: take the path 30 meters before the rock-road ends. Keep left on the path, also if it seems a bit blocked. At the stream look for the bare rock on the other side and follow the small stream up to the rock. There are no markings or signs anywhere, just small paths.
Coffee in town and oozing around. Dinner at the hotel.

Sunday 17.9. Sarajevo (Bosnia)
Breakfast: Very special. Looks like dinner leftovers. Most Serbian here preferred a warm meal for breakfast.
Language: LP states that they are getting good at speaking English - it is somewhat an exaggeration. We met one: The receptionist at Jugopetrol who tried slowly. Nobody else spoke a word. When we said a sentence in English - they would shut up or keep on talking quickly in Serbian. It wasn't really a problem - we learned to say 'dva kuglas sladoled vanila' and 'coffee' was the same - so we managed.
Today it was raining. We drove west towards Sarajevo. The road west of Visegrad along rivers and lakes, in the mountains was spectacular. Then it happened what should not happen. We aquaplaned after a turn. Birgitte tried to steer right - away from a deep ditch on the left, and we came over in the right side, but only managed to straighten up after we were in the ditch. We were doing 80 km/h so it was an abrupt stop. The children were a bit shocked and cried for a minute, but then had forgotten all about it. The front tire had come off and a headlight was broken, but we were all right. A couple of cars stopped to help, and I don't know how we would have continued on without their help. Bojan from Belgrade spoke English very well, and told us that as a child he and his family had ended up in the ditch a bit further on, also because of aquaplaning. A family helped with the children while changing the tire and gave us softdrinks etc. After about an hour, we could continue on, a bit shaken. 1 km further on another car was overturned (aquaplanning) - and the family who helped us were again helping out. Checked in at the
Hotel Hollywod in Ilidza, close to the airport. Erik went to National car rental to talk about the car - the man from National was very helpful, but kept talking about we should have called the police (100 km out in the mountains?). So he wanted to make it look like an accident, but we could not do it on the parking lot - he had had 3 'accidents' there already this week, so the police had told him that the least he could do was to take it outside the airport next time... Well, it ended with him saying he would take care of it, since the police wouldn't come on a Sunday anyway. And that the tire we should pay anyway - about 30€. We were a bit anxious how much they would end up charging - it was 230€, but we decided not to follow up on it.
We took a walk around Ilidza and had dinner at the hotel - good food and service - and very good rooms.

Monday 18.9. Home
The flight home went well; and we were all the way back in Århus by 13:00.

Write me an e-mail if you could use any of the information - and I'm happy to answer questions you may have, if you are going to some of the same places.

General observations from our trip: We saw no McDonalds, Burger King or other fast food chains in any of the places we visited. We didn't find any 'fresh' milk. Only UTH.

Erik Futtrup