My trip to Croatia & Bosnia Herzegovina

croatia

Yesterday i got back from a week long trip to Croatia & Bosnia Herzegovina. Over the past 7 days i’ve spent about 6 hours in a car, 14 hours in a bus and 7 hours on a plane plus i’ve been up and down a few mountains on foot. The tiring bit is the sun & heat factor…

I’ve been without a computer for a week now and i have to admit, my eyes are struggling to switch straight back in to ‘internet’ mode. Staring at a screen for the first time in a week is something I haven’t experienced in about 8 years. I don’t usually go away anywhere for longer than 3 or 4 days. However, there’s work to be done… photos need to be edited & uploaded, blog posts need to be made, emails need to be responded to 🙂

What better way to re-introduce my eyes to 3 bright, scary monitors than to browse through some of the 1600+ photos i took over the past 7 days… i’ve selected about 600 that will be uploaded to my flickr. Some require a lot of work (e..g. straightening, cropping, contrast), others look almost so perfect you’re gonna think i’ve photoshopped them. Allow me to get started…

Dubrovnik to Medjugorje

We flew with Aer Lingus from Dublin to Dubrovnik on Sunday 22nd May at Stupid O’ Clock (a.k.a 6.50 am). Although i enjoy getting to places early, getting up so early usually leaves me feeling so tired i don’t even realise i’m tired. Adrenaline kicks in when you’re heading off on a plane and quickly wares off once you realise flying is boring once you take away the taking off and landing bit. Can you sleep on a plane? On a bus? I can’t. I’ll close my eyes all right and drift in and out of sleep but i’ll probably get a max 2 minutes of sleep before a bump or distinctive voice wakes me.

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Anyway, once in Dubrovnik we faced a 3 hour bus trip to Medjugorje where we were based for most of the week. That 3 hour bus trip was probably the best 3 hours bus trip you could hope for. View, views and more views. The 3 hours were broken up by a mid way pit stop in a cafe over-looking the sea / cliffs /islands and a few novelty border check points help perk you up as you weave in and out of Europe (Croatia is in Europe, Bosnia Herzegovina isn’t).

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Medjugorje

Wikipedia describes Medjugorje in a nutshell; located in the Herzegovina region around 25 km southwest of Mostar and close to the border of Croatia. Since 1981, it has become a popular site of religious pilgrimage due to reports of apparitions of the Virgin Mary to six local Catholics.

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I didn’t know what to expect when i got here in terms of size, population, tourist numbers etc… but I was instantly surprised by the amount of apartment blocks, b and b’s, hotels, restaurants and shops around the place. The scenical part of me would say those apparitions were a stroke of economic & entrepreneurial genius, way ahead of their time, which have people injecting cash in to the locality 30 years after the events took place. Initial investment, nothing… the pay off – still counting today. Since 1981, there have been numerous sightings, strange events & reported miracles here. Some have logical, scientific explanation which for many years went unanswered and were put down as miracles or some kind of religious signs.

That’s the frustrating bit for me – faith is constantly proved wrong by science, so i have more faith in science than faith itself. Put it this way, i’d fail exams in college if i were to answer questions in metaphors and without facts, it’s instinctive for me to question things and figure out how and why they work the way they do. If there are no answers, you keep searching and carry out research to make your own. But i hate getting drawn in to religious debate. It’s like debating whether the chicken or the egg came first (and recently scientists came up with a definitive answer for that too). If religion makes people happy and do great things, great. If people are happy and do great things without it, great. I don’t see the difference or judge anyone either way. I think it’s lost significance amongst my generation however and rightly so. Science has dealt it hammer blows time and time again, so too has the church itself. But in my own view the fear of death is what will constantly keep religion in business. It’s the one thing we’ve been paranoid about since time began, mainly because we’ll never have any way of figuring out what it is, why it happens and where we go afterwards. But that’s getting too deep…

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Ignoring religion for a second, Medjugorje itself is pretty peaceful and welcoming. Plenty of walks, plenty of sun… food is good and remarkably cheap. Main course? €5. Desert? €3. Portion size? American. It’s a food lover’s dream. It will never pass for a ‘sun holiday’ destination due to it’s religious roots, but the region in general is pretty scenic and worth seeing at least once.

Back to religion now (it’s hard to get away from it in when talking about a place like Medjugorje) and there are three places Mary supposedly appeared or continues to appear. Blue Cross, Apparition Hill & Cross Mountain. I visited all of them. The terrain is tricky to navigate through, particularly at Blue Cross / Apparition Hill (it’s the same mountain). Sharp, jagged rocks are waiting to slice open the flesh of anyone who happens to fall. Dangerous stuff and i was surprised to see elderly people and kids ascend. Some even barefoot!

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Cross Mountain is the big one (i’m sure these mountains all have ‘proper’ names, these are just nick names). Although it takes twice as long to climb up, i found it easier. It suited my long legs better and the rocks were flatter, making it the kinder of the two mountains for those barefoot climbers. Italians, Japanese, Irish, American… priests, young, old, obese… an incredible variety of people head up and down that mountain every day. That’s the power and pull of religion & faith I suppose.

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At the top, you’re greeted by spectacular views of the town itself and the surrounding countryside. There’s also a large white cross up there. People take stones & rocks up the mountains then leave them at the top. The thinking behind that is you go up with sins, leave them there, then come down sin-less. Although i didn’t see them, apparently we passed by a group carrying a life-size wooden cross up the mountain too. Insane.

One thing i noticed about Medjugorje & Bosnia Herzegovina / Croatia in general was that then sun rose and set at a really strange angle (well strange to me anyway). You can literally see every ray of the sun in the sky, shooting out from the horizon. Red, orange, pink, purple… a wild mixture of colours depending on the weather. I’ve never seen anything like that before. Because it was so hot during the day, we climbed the big mountain just in time to see the sun rise. The photos speak for themselves…

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Religious experience? Not for me anyway, just pure beauty of nature. If i could steal anything from Medjugorje and pack it in my suitcase, it would be that sun. Here’s a sunset from the day before and another sunset the day after. Notice the colours and rays.

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Dubrovnik

Ah, a city. People, cars, buses, lights… more my type of place. The long bus trip to Dubrovnik from Medjugorje gave me the opportunity to experience that long scenic bus trip down the Adriatic coast once again. Once i arrived in Dubrovnik’s new bus station, i was greeted by a big ‘apartments’ sign in my face followed by a ‘you speak english?’ rhetorical and grammatically incorrect question, the type of question you get asked by people begging on the street or trying to get money out of you. This guy was no different, he was trying to sell me accommodation, then a boat ride, then a restaurant deal… anything. He was genuine in that he was some kind of rep with all the documentation and knowledge of what he was trying to sell but his desperation to sell was his undoing as that put me in to ‘no thanks, let’s get out of here’ mode. After getting my bearings and getting to a safe place away from people and ‘that guy’, i began to survey the scene around the bus station once i’d bought my bus tickets in to town.

There were a few very normal looking people just walking around, as if waiting for a bus or to greet some friends coming in off a bus. At least 3 or 4 of these individuals. When a bus would come in they’d loiter around the door of the bus as if waiting to greet somebody they knew. They’d spot the tourists and pounce. It’s never nice to see that, but what can you do… at the same bus station on the way back to Medjugorje, i noticed a young guy talking and helping the bus driver load luggage on to the bus, extremely eager to help and answer any questions people were asking about where the bus was going, when it was leaving etc… i assumed he was working there despite the fact he was in jeans and tshirt but on reflection he was simply looking for tips (the public bus charged you €1 per bag put underneath the bus – ryanair would be proud).

Anyway, the only way to get around Dubrovnik itself is by bus or taxi. You can buy internal bus tickets for 10 kunas each (about €1.30) and use then on any bus for up to 1 hour after you’ve first swiped it. It’s a small city so you could walk around most of the major sites without collapsing from exhaustion, although you’ll be glad of a bus and more importantly air conditioning in the heat.

The best part of Dubrovnik is the old town. It’s a mini city within a city surrounded by castle-like stone walls. I’ve never been in Italy, but it feels very Italian. Narrow, steep, side streets, plenty of restaurants and a real historical vibe.

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You can walk around the top of the walls for a fee (about €10). Worth doing for the views although make sure you don’t head up there in the rain as there isn’t much cover. We went up with a thunderstorm raging in the distance so our walk around the walls was pretty brisk. We took shelter in a restaurant in one of the side streets just as the thunderstorm caught up with us. Normal prices, normal portion sizes and now normal weather as we could hear the rain smash of the cobbled stones outside.

After that we grabbed a Cable car up to the top of a mountain over looking the city.

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By that stage the weather had cleared up and we caught another magical sunset along with breathtaking views. Check it out…

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Mostar

Mostar is a city and municipality in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the largest and the most important city in the Herzegovina region (ripped from wikipedia as word municipality isn’t in my vocabulary, but is now after a google search).

This place is another city. A smaller city than Dubrovnik but another historically significant city i.e. it was bombed and fought over, relatively recently in the 90’s.

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Kravice Waterfalls

These waterfalls are 100m in length and 25m high and we caught them in full flow (apparently they’re at their most powerful around spring time and dry up a bit later in the summer). They’re off the beaten track so the only way to get to them is by car or private bus. A shame because they’re worth seeing if you’re anywhere near the region.

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Other Stuff

I stepped foot inside a Mosque for the first time.

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Visited this dervish house (type of religious house) which is situated directly under a *massive* cliff in the middle of nowhere with a river and some great scenery…

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Noticed this sign in Dubrovnik’s Old Town…

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Seen a wild lizard for the first time

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Planes from a plane – i don’t know what it is but i’m now getting in to the habit of looking out for planes whilst on a plane. It’s amazing how many planes you’ll see nearby flying in the opposite directions or above / below you. Some great photo ops to be had if you can keep a steady hand and have a decent zoom.

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Would i go back?

Yes. Dubrovnik is a definite yes. I don’t like the fact you can only get around by bus (if you stay near the old town that will help) but it would be a nice city break for 3 or 4 nights. Plenty to see and do around it and loads of small islands nearby if you get bored with the city itself.

I’d go back to Medjugorje but a week would probably be too much for me. I’d need internet access or something to keep me entertained otherwise it would all become a bit too repetitive. Again, 3 or 4 nights here would suit me best, it’s a nice place to go for peace and quiet or to go for walks even if you’re not religious at all. If you like nature, scenery, cliffs, mountains, quiet, history or religion (the catholic kind would suit best!) then i’d recommend you visit Croatia and / or Bosnia Herzegovina at least once. You won’t regret it.

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