Bridge Jumping in Mostar

After a recommendation from a friend (Thanks Emily!) we decided to take a side trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina.  What we thought was a 3 hour bus trip turned into a 6 hour bus trip after a delay at the border, and of course the obligatory stop so that the bus driver could buy 3 giant bags of oranges and not share.

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Arriving in Mostar was a definite change from Croatia.  Mostar was severely damaged in the Bosnian war and, though they have re-built much of the town, you can still see evidence of warfare.  Some buildings are still left half-standing, damaged by bombings, and covered with bullet holes.

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Building and bullet holes

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Do Not Enter

 

Despite the troubling history of the town, it had a magical feel with amazing views of the famous Stari Most bridge and Neretva River below.  The bridge was built by the Ottomans in 1566, then bombed to pieces in 1993 during the Bosnian War.  It was rebuilt (using many of the original pieces salved from the depths of the river) in 2004 and is once again the central landmark to the town of Mostar.

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Stari Most

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On the bridge looking out at the giant mosque

Mostar residents belong to an interesting mix of religions (effects of the Ottoman Empire, followed by the Austro-Hungarian Empire) which can be seen in the variety of churches and Mosques in town.  We could hear the call to prayer throughout the day and early evening – a more melodic version than those we heard in Morocco and Ghana.

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Bridge Selfie

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Mosque Plus Hang Glider

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As we sat for coffee one morning with a view of the bridge, we noticed someone standing up on the edge.  Apparently after collecting enough money from tourists, the Mostar divers bridge-jump in the summertime.  What that means is they jump from over 20 meters high, which is extremely dangerous.  Their preparation before a jump is very calculated.  Two or three deep breaths, then they raise their arms up, and carefully fall straight, with their knees bent. They unfold their knees right as they hit the water.  It’s so high that the impact could kill you, so they have to be very careful. We talked to one of the guys in town who said that for the men growing up in Mostar it’s kind of a rite of passage. He jumped once when he was 16… and never again.  The women aren’t expected to do it to prove their womanhood though.

There are injuries and deaths every year, mostly because tourists try to jump.  So, after mulling it over, we decided not to try it. No, just kidding we didn’t consider it at all :).

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Jump! Then swim quickly to the side before you get swept away by the current.

While in Mostar we also took a side trip to Kravice Falls, about a 45 minute drive away. For those visiting in the future, I’d say skip it if you’ve got Plitvice Lakes on your itinerary.  But go otherwise, it’s really quite beautiful and a good side trip.

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Kravice Falls

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Apparently I was the only one that wasn’t hung over.

We hired a guide through a tourist travel agency to drive us there – he must have been in his mid 20s and was at some sort of a safe camp in Croatia during the war so doesn’t have any bad memories of it.  Not everyone got out of Mostar during the war though, and many people a bit older than he still have memories of the war from when they were very young kids.  While in Mostar we saw a photo exhibit of life there during the war and it was heart-wrenching, and a brutal reminder that this is in no way a distant memory, as people are still suffering through warfare today.

Our guide was saying that he is really frustrated with politics- they have three presidents (it’s a really complicated system with presidents from the Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Serbian sides- really a division of Roman Catholic, Muslim, and Orthodox Christian religions) but in his opinion there is too much propaganda, and too many politicians still holding grudges and arguing about the war and bringing up bad memories.  He said the younger generations just want to move on from it.

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This really sad looking guy was running for office.

We spent our time in Mostar wandering the town,  eating some really great meals, and googling a bunch of history about the area and the war.  In the end we extended our stay from one to three nights in Mostar before returning to Croatia.

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Waiting for dinner, in good kitten-company.

 

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Cruisin’ Croatia

The end of September/ early October is a great time to visit Croatia. It’s the off season, which means all the locals think it’s cold out but it’s really just a perfect Seattle summer temperature, plus warm ocean water. Prices go down and it’s less crowded with tourists.

The Adriatic Sea is unbelievably clear. After meandering down the harbors hoping some guy would invite us onto a sailboat for free, we decided we were going about it all wrong and booked a couple boat tours: one in Pula and one in Split.

The first tour took us around Brijuni National Park, which is a series of islands off the coast of Istria.  We couldn’t actually dock at any of the islands since everything is protected, and it’s also government property where they do all their business in the summertime so we could only cruise around and admire.  The main island is where Tito made his home when the country was still Yugoslavia.  Our tour guide explained that residents used to live on the island but moved to the mainland when Tito moved in and built his mansion.  I chuckled and asked “wait, he just moved in and told everyone else they had to leave their homes and find new places to live?” The response: “yeah, it’s not unlike American history.” Touché, tour guide, touché.

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The view of Pula from the boat.

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One of the Brijuni Islands in the background

The day of the cruise was warm and sunny, and they served a ‘fish-picnic’ which may have been the highlight.  The food was very tasty and we threw the bones to the ravenous seagulls when we were done.

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Mmm garlicky goodness.

Our next boat cruise was extra special because Sherry came to visit us! Hooray!  We met Sherry in Split and relaxed for a couple days before booking this day tour that made three stops, including the blue lagoon where we jumped off the boat to swim.

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First stop: Maslinica on Island Solta. Plus wi-fi.

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Maslinica

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Blue Lagoon. We swam here for an hour. The water was nice and warm.

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Jump off the boat, climb back in, repeat!

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Third stop: Trogir, up the coast from Split

 

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Happiness.

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With our new buddy Nakita, from Canada.

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Everyone loved Cale because he re-filled the wine glasses.

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Sunset on the boat.

If you find yourself in Croatia, these day-tours are great value and will definitely be a highlight of your trip!

Plitvice Lakes National Park

If Plitvice Lakes isn’t on your bucket list, add it now!  Cale and I rented a car and drove from Istria to the lakes and had a wonderful time.  September was a great time to visit- we could see the trees starting to change color but it was still nice and warm outside.  I assume that in the summer the park is teeming with visitors; it was crowded when we visited but if you go early in the day you can miss a lot of the crowds.  The park is gorgeous.  The only downfall: you’re not allowed to swim in the lakes :).

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Walking the lower lakes

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Parts of the trail were actually closed due to flooding… but we walked through anyway.

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You can see the water on the path here

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Rainbow in the valley

 

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Day two at the upper lakes

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Adventures in Porec

After Italy, we took a boat (kind of like the Victoria Clipper) over to Porec, a town I chose on a whim. We didn’t know anything about Porec as we booked our stay, but it turned out to be a great little town right on the water, easily walkable, and with a huge bike trail leading to the adjacent towns and countryside.

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From the bell tower of the basilica in Porec- a site that’s been around since the 2nd Century BC.

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From the bell tower looking back on the town

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Floor mosaic from the 4th century

The entire space reaching 5km past either side of Porec is swimmable and has ladders built right into the boardwalks. We stayed a bit north of the main town so were able to enjoy the sunsets looking back onto the ocean and town. The Adriatic Sea is surprisingly calm without waves, and during each sunset the water was as calm as glass.

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We had a few great swimming days in the ocean (this isn’t the first time on the trip I’ve brought my 9 year old style back; we invested in goggles and aqua socks so are looking super cool). We were staying at Apartments Pical, which was the cheapest thing I could find in town- it was luckily owned and managed by a 4 Star Hotel where we got to use the wi-fi and the pool, and borrow bikes for free.

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Cale building up the courage to jump in… by stretching.

The apartments were perfect for us- we got a two bedroom with a patio and an equipped kitchen. Porec is a resort town, full of chubby vacationing Germans, so it wasn’t the most cultural experience, but it was beautiful and relaxing. We had happy hours on our deck, and I took up watercoloring (if you want a hand-painted postcard just message me and I’ll send you one!) Then we both got sick and couldn’t drink anymore but it was still nice and relaxing.

The Porec Tourist Office had a flyer advertising ‘a bike and gourmet tour,’ suggesting routes around the Istrian countryside that passed through wineries and past restaurants that would have food and drink specials. So we planned to take a day to do one of the suggested tours. After getting rained out the day we wanted to go, we locked our bikes to a post on our front patio and planned to leave the following morning.

Lo and behold… we wake up and the bikes are gone! There had been a storm overnight, complete with thunder, lightning, and dumping rain, and someone cut our lock during the storm in this sleepy little town! Cale and I were in a panic because they weren’t our bikes and we thought we’d be liable for the cost… we reported it to the hotel staff who calmed us down, saying they would just go through insurance and we wouldn’t be liable for anything. What a huge sigh of relief. All they needed from us was a police report.

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Our little apartment with our rented bikes… before they got TAKEN. Too bad we’re not friends with Liam Neeson.

So we borrowed two more bikes (I know, I know) and rode to the police station where we were told to sit and wait for 5 minutes. Cale immediately jammed the vending machine and the poor police officer on duty had to come out and help him un-jam it (didn’t work, I’m sure the drink machine at the Porec police station is still jammed, FYI). Then about an hour later the cop we need to talk to finally comes out to interview us but Cale had stepped out to the store to get a drink since his was stuck in the machine. So Cale returned and the cop, already annoyed with us, spent an hour asking us what happened. But it was really confusing because he was asking us the age and cost of the bikes, and we didn’t know but were guessing. He was also really interested in taking down all details about our address in Seattle and Cale’s dad’s personal info… then finally at the end he was like ‘oh, you’re saying these aren’t your bikes? There’s a different procedure for that.’ And then he sent us away without a police report, and told us the hotel staff needed to come in instead.

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The Porec police force is hard at work… helping Cale un-jam the vending machine. Plus I’m a super stealth photographer.

Another day gone without our bike tour, and now we were on a mission. We had to take this bike ride, we had romanticized it so much in our heads. So the following day we rented new bikes but one had a flat and the hotel didn’t have a pump. After finding a pump at an adjacent hotel, we discovered it was a real flat and needed a new tube. We thought we’d be nice and get it fixed for the hotel since they had been so kind to us, so we walked it to a bike shop in town to buy a tube. The owner of the shop sold us the tube but then got really pissed when we asked to pump it up saying “I make my money off of sales and repairs and you’re wasting my time, get out of here!” So… back to the hotel we go to pump up the tube and then discover that not only is the tube the wrong size for our bike, it’s also got a huge hole in it! At this point we had spent about 4 hours going back and forth from hotels to bike shops trying to fix a flat tire so couldn’t go on the bike tour (again). Eventually we got the tire fixed… and another day was gone without a bike tour.

In true American fashion we try, try again! We have nothing if not for our gumption! Instead we probably should have listened to the universe telling us not to take the damn tour. The day we finally went, we realized the tour seemed organized but none of the trails were marked and none of the restaurants and wineries that were listed on the tour schedule seemed to know anything about it.   One of the wineries wasn’t even open that day! Luckily we were able to find a little wine bar that made their own wine (not listed on the tour brochure) and a great restaurant that was really nice to us and threw in dessert and coffee for free after we showed them the brochure. And we did see some nice Istrian countryside. But we learned we need to get better at calling audibles.

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And we’re off! Finally!

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Right after the waitress told us she didn’t know what tour we were talking about… their restaurant name is on the brochure.

All in all we spent a week in Porec, with our final evening spent at Oktoberfest for Cale’s birthday.  It was a German party, put on by our Croatian hotel chain, with an Austrian band singing Sweet Home Alabama. It was a good night.

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We were the first ones there…