Sarajevo Bosnia and Herzegovina

Gazi Husrev-Beg Mosque – Bjoertvedt WikiCommons

I love Sarajevo – a cool European city with a laid back atmosphere! It’s a treat exploring such an agreeable place. The people are friendlier than Berlin, Croatia, and Montenegro. They make things comfortable and it’s easy to blend.

Austrian Architecture Old Town

Performing Arts and Architecture

My apartment is along the Miljacka River which has 20+ bridges. It’s near Old Town close to restaurants, markets, museums, and the National Theatre, a venue for symphony, ballet, opera, and theater performances. Sarajevo Philharmonic is more active in the summer, but there’s a concert February 21.

Cathedral Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos – Bjoertvedt WikiCommons

The University of Sarajevo and Sarajevo’s Academy of Performing Arts work with Open Stage Obala, an “alternative theatre scene”. Students present their works along with professional actors, directors, and writers. I remember thoroughly enjoying an alternative theater performance in Ljubljana a few years ago. There are plays almost every day at the National Theatre. 

Franz Leo Ruben Bascarsija Sarajevo

Architecture in Sarajevo reflects Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, Yugoslavian, and Soviet influences. The churches, mosques, and synagogues are spectacular!

Sarajevo City Hall – Lasserbua WikiCommons

Bumpy Trip Kotor to Sarajevo

The trip from Kotor was a bit bumpy. I booked the bus not only because it was economical but also to enjoy glorious Balkan scenery – the sunset was gorgeous! Later I learned that Internet bus bookings aren’t the best option. It’s better to make reservations in person at the station. Apparently, no buses go directly from Kotor to Sarajevo, so the trip involved a layover. The drivers (there are two who switch) looked at my ticket and had a lively conversation in Montenegrin. Neither spoke much English.

Sarajevo Vista – Luke McCallin

One driver approached speaking Montenegrin. He quickly realized I didn’t understand and tried to speak English asking where I was from – the other driver said Netherlands, I shook my head, then Denmark, UK… When I smiled and said US, they both laughed – not sure what that meant, but people in the Balkans seem to like Americans. Gruff and unfriendly when I boarded the bus, the drivers warmed up.

Sarajevo National Theatre – Youth History Blog

Border Crossings, Other Passengers

There weren’t many passengers but several pick-up and drop-off stops. At each border crossing – Montenegro,  Croatia, Bosnia – we got off the bus. After immigration agents checked and stamped our passports, we walked a few meters between countries and the bus picked us up on the other side. This reminded me of border crossings in South America. During the process I met other passengers. Two young guys from Sabah Malaysia seemed a bit lost. Mountain climbers, they were working up to the Himalayas. We chatted about Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysia which I climbed many years ago.

Sculpting Old Town

Bus Change, Taxi Drama, Early Arrival

Several stops later the drivers suggested I switch buses and take one going directly to Sarajevo – another passenger on the bus translated. The change would bypass a layover and cut 2 hours off my travel time. I agreed.

Sarajevo Clock Tower – KB Abroad

It was slightly unnerving when we pulled off the highway in the dark to meet the other bus and make the change. There were only a few passengers on board. The drivers were smoking so much it almost made me sick. After a pit stop at a small café, we arrived in Sarajevo around 10 pm. It was snowing!

Ali Pasha Mosque Sarajevo – Damien Smith

The next hurdle was notifying my accommodation I was arriving early. There was no Internet and I didn’t have a local SIM card yet. I asked the bus driver about taxis – big mistake. He immediately called a friend who gladly picked me up – ha no taxi sign on the car or meter inside, but since no “real taxis” were in sight… With few options, I got in and asked the driver to call the accommodation to explain I was checking in early. We arrived at the apartment before the landlord.

Sarajevo Scene Near Apartment

Then the dodgy driver said the charge for the “taxi ride” was 20 Euro (that’s almost 10 times too much) for such a short drive! I had no opportunity to get local currency – Bosnian Marka (BAM). Fuddled I didn’t ask the fee before getting inside his car :( which clearly was not a taxi. I gave him a piece of my mind as he grabbed the 20 Euro note, jumped into his car, and sped off leaving me standing in the cold and dark.

Old Town Vista

Just as I was about to scream, the landlord arrived to welcome me. I told him the taxi story. He rolled his eyes agreeing that local taxis weren’t always reliable or trustworthy.

Latin Bridge Miljacka River Near Apartment

I take responsibility for the taxi fiasco. The situation caught me off guard – difficult to think out all scenarios. Word of advice for travelers – always beware of taxi drivers! I seem to relearn that lesson often. Uber isn’t available in Bosnia but a local company supposedly has a mobile app – couldn’t find it… In transit between countries I’ll remember to use my international SIM card.

Sarajevo Old Town – World Nomads

More later…

Kotor Montenegro to Sarajevo

Sarajevo Vista – samed

Tomorrow I leave Kotor for Sarajevo – the capital and largest city in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s exciting to visit Sarajevo even in the winter when it’s cold with snow flurries in the forecast.

Sarajevo – FIBA

Emperor’s Mosque Sarajevo – otarikkic Pizabay

Although I appreciate the medieval cities, exceptional nature, and beautiful coastal areas in Croatia and Montenegro, I also enjoy the energy of cities. Sarajevo is the “political, social, and cultural center of Bosnia and a prominent cultural center in the Balkans”. It’s also known for religious and cultural diversity.

Sarajevo Rooftops and Catholic and Orthodox Cathedrals – Charles Bowman

Roman Bridge Sarajevo – Elvira Bojadzic Islamic Arts Magazine

There’s a cable car and like San Francisco, Sarajevo has an electric tram network running through the city. I’m staying in Old Town near the city center and looking forward to exploring!

Sarajevo Trebević Cable Car – Monocle

Sarajevo Bridges Miljacka River – Sarajevo Travel

_____________

“Sarajevo is one of few European cities with a “mosque, Catholic church, Orthodox church, and synagogue all in the same neighborhood”.

_____________

Sarajevo Tram – commons.wilkimedia.org

In 1914, Bosnian Serb teenage activist Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria sparking World War I and “ending Austro-Hungarian rule in Bosnia“.  Years later during the Bosnia and Yugoslav Wars, Sarajevo suffered the “longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare”. The city is still undergoing post-war reconstruction.

Princip Gavrilo – Wikipedia

Sacred Heart Cathedral Sarajevo – Sygic Travel

Latin Bridge Sarajevo – FlixBus

Festina Lente Looping Bridge Sarajevo – Dezeen

More later…

Kotor Montenegro

Slave Žižek – The Mountain Wreath Epic Montenegrin Poem

Montenegro is decidedly different from Croatia. I spent the first day in a cloud trying to accomplish basics – getting bearings, buying a local SIM, finding food, and determining a loose itinerary for the week. After days of rain, the weather was warm and sunny!

Kotor Wall at Dusk – On the Luce Travel Blog

Some tours available in summer aren’t running now, but there’s still plenty to see and learn. I’m checking into boat tours of nearby islands in the Bay of Kotor. Since it’s winter group tours are hard to find and private tours expensive.

St. George Church Kotor – Kathmandu & Beyond

Walking Kotor’s Walls to St. John’s Fortress

My first adventure was walking Kotor’s walls and the “seemingly never-ending switchbacks along the ancient ramparts” of St. John Mountain to St. John’s Fortress. The stone steps and loose rocks were challenging but not difficult. The path leads to interesting destinations, depending on how far you go and which turns you take at forks in the path. You can end up at Church of Our Lady of Remedy, Sveti Ivan Fortress, or the partially hidden Church of St. George.

Hiking the Wall

Petar II Petrović Njegoš – Montenegrin Ruler, Governor, Poet, and Philosopher

Kotor Old Town – New Location, Different Apartment

Moving between countries causes some disorientation – at least for me. Just when you’re getting comfortable in a location, it’s time to move on and everything changes. Moves keep you on your toes. My Kotor apartment is in Old Town. At first the medieval city with its narrow cobbled streets, stone archways, and dead ends seemed like an impossible maze – especially at night. My landlord gave a good orientation which didn’t make sense at the time but after a day of exploring does.

View from St. John Fortress

_____________

“Kotor’s history is parallel to the rich culture of the town ruled by many conquerors –  Illyrians, Venetians, Austrians, French…”

_____________

Kotor Bridge Old Town – 360monte.me

Every morning at 7:30 am Old Town church bells begin tolling. If you’re staying here and not already awake, it’s your unavoidable alarm clock! Throughout the day the bells ring at predetermined times – noon, 5 pm, 8 pm. Sunday is a day of wild church bells.

Kotor Montenegro – featurepics.com

Cars are not allowed in Old City. You can hear reverberating conversations from cafés, carts rolling along the cobbled pavement, and people passing in the narrow stone streets below. The last medieval city time I stayed in was Split Croatia. It’s a fun, interesting experience and mini taste of life in a medieval city.

Culture, Poetry, Art

Kotor’s history includes invasions by many would-be conquerors, yet Montenegro maintains a unique culture and national pride. Balkan neighbors from Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia often label relaxed Montenegrins as lazy. Not sure that’s fair. They have a “deep love and respect for family” and clearly are proud of their heritage and country. I still struggle to differentiate between Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians.

Sveti Ivan Fortress – Meanderbug

Poetry is an important part of Montenegro’s history. Gorski Vijenac (The Mountain Wreath) is a “vast epic poem focusing on the coming together (or lack thereof) of Montenegro’s many tribes”. Petar II Petrović Njegoš, Montenegrin ruler, governor, poet, and philosopher wrote the poem. It’s not an easy read but a must if you really want to understand Montenegro.

Dado Đurić Painter, Engraver, Draftsman, Illustrator, Sculptor – OKF Cetinje

Milo Milunović Painter Impressionism and Cubism – maletic.org

_____________

Montenegro’s most formidable foes were the Venetians and Ottomans. Both cultures left a strong impact on the country.

_____________

Saint Tryphon Cathedral Kotor

Dado Đurić Montenegrin Artist

Njegoš brought “modernization” to Montenegro in the 19th century. Between 1970 and 1974 the Montenegrin people built the highest mausoleum in the world to honor him. It’s on the second highest peak of Lovcen Mountain.

Art is important to Montenegrins. Milo Milunović and Dado Đurić are two notable contemporary artists. If possible, I’ll visit local galleries and see their work. Most major galleries are in Cetinje, Herceg-Novi, Podgorica, Bar, and Budva.

Church of Our Lady of Remedy Kotor – Photorator

Independence, Politics, Economy

Like Croatians, Montenegrins have a “relentless desire for independence”. Over centuries they’ve fought fierce battles against large invading armies.

Milo Milunović – Pinterest

Montenegro has been independent since 2006. The President Milo Đukanović is also President of the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro. He’s known as a “Balkan political strongman” and has been in power since 1997. I’ve heard that Đukanović is unpopular with younger Montenegrins.

President of Montenegro Milo Đukanović – bne IntelliNews

My landlord expressed concern that the current situation in Kosovo might have a negative impact on Montenegro. I don’t know much about it and am educating myself.

Dado Đurić Traces of Ancient Montenegro – mne.today

There’s considerable poverty in Montenegro. The average monthly salary is between 300 – 600 Euros. Montenegro’s economy is said to be “in transition”. Currently it’s service based and still recovering from the impact of the Yugoslav Wars. Montenegro experienced a real estate boom in 2006 and 2007 when wealthy “Russians, Brits, and others bought property on the Montenegrin coast”.

Steps to Sveti Ivan Fortress – Meanderbug

More later…

Bosnia and Herzegovina – Počitelj, Medjugorje, Mostar

Stari Most Mostar Bosnia – Travel Is Beautiful

The day tour to Bosnia was interesting, and since my time in Dubrovnik is over soon, I decided to go rain or shine. Unfortunately, the weather was terrible putting a damper on photos and exploring. Our guide shared history and entertained us with folktales and side stories about his life in Bosnia and Croatia.

Pocitelj Bosnia – cherylhoward.com

I’m still confused about Balkan history and rivalry between Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia. I think others find it confusing too. The expression “forgive but never forget” is used often in Croatia. Like Germany, the longer I stay in Croatia, the clearer it becomes there’s more to learn about the country…

Franjo Tudjman Bridge Dubrovnik – Croatia Week

There were two others in the group, a couple who had sailed to Dubrovnik. Their sailboat was undergoing maintenance. Sadly, they were the worst tour companions imaginable. Details are inappropriate for a blog but included mean and nasty fights followed by making up – insane, disturbing behavior. The uncomfortable scenes could have been from Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf :o( and they didn’t seem concerned that two other people were captive to their bickering – what a pair! Luckily, we split several times for exploring.

Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque Mostar – karim74.wordpress.com

Mostar Old City – Vera Kailova

Twelve Croatia, Bosnia Border Crossings

On the way from Dubrovnik to Mostar and back we crossed a total of 12 borders. Thankfully the crossings were quick and painless and didn’t require stamping 12 separate passport pages!

Počitelj Old Town Wall – Hit Booker

The borders are a “legacy of the wars that tore Yugoslavia apart two decades ago”. You pass a six-mile stretch of Bosnia-Herzegovina near the resort town of Neum. Then the road circles back to Croatia through the Neretva Valley before you enter Bosnia again. In the past, the road was all in one country without borders.

Franciscan Monastery Mostar

Neum Agreement Croatia and Bosnia

Croatia and Bosnia signed the “Neum Agreement” in 1998 guaranteeing free passage from Croatia’s northern Port of Ploče through Bosnia-Herzegovina. Neum is close to Dubrovnik International Airport. Non-EU/EFTA citizens passing through Neum who plan to stay in Bosnia a while need Croatian exit and Bosnian entry stamps in their passports. Not obtaining them is “illegal and causes issues when exiting”.

Počitelj Bosnia and Herzegovina – commons.wikimedia.org

Dubrovnik’s Daksa Island and Arboretum Trsteno

We departed via Dubrovnik Bridge heading north along the coast passing Daksa Island. The island was the “site of a brutal massacre in 1944 by Yugoslav partisans“. The Yugoslavs arrested hundreds of Dubrovnik citizens from the Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska – NDH). They accused some of being Nazi sympathizers and executed them without a trial. Today Daksa Island is abandoned. Locals claim the “ghosts of those executed” haunt the island. With minimal research, it seems the NDH era is its own chapter in Croatian history.

Metković – Stjepan Jozepovic

We passed Arboretum Trsteno in the small Croatian village of the same name. The beautiful gardens have an interesting story. Dubrovnik’s Gozze family started them in the 15th century by “asking the city’s sailing community to bring back seeds and plants from their travels around the globe”. The gardens include an aqueduct and 18th century fountain with a statue of Neptune and two nymphs. The arboretum is home to some of the oldest trees in Croatia.

Neptune Fountain Trsteno Gardens – The Dubrovnik Times

Croatian Villages – Zaton, Slano, Zavala, and Ston

Wild boars inhabit the low, bushy terrain around the Croatian villages of Zaton, Slano, Zavala, and Ston. Boar hunting is popular and locals consider the meat a delicacy. Slano and Ston are famous for their salt pans and valuable salt sea factories along the Duboka River. The Duboka is a tributary of Bosnia’s Vrbanja River running near Međugorje Mountain and Bojići Village.

Eurasian Wild Boar – IUCN Red List

Yugoslavia

Bosnia – Neum and Počitelj

As we turned northeast and headed inland through Bosnia, Neum was our first stop. We sat inside enjoying coffee and escaping another torrential downpour. On the way to Počitelj, we passed more villages along the blue-greenish Neretva River.

Adriatic Terrain Neretva Valley

Hutovo Blato Nature Park is in the Neretva Valley near Capljina. Capljina has interesting archaeology and “untouched wilderness”. It’s a “unique Mediterranean swamp and wintering place for birds in Europe”.

Hutovo Blato Nature Park Bosnia – Parks Dinarides

Our Lady of Peace Medjugorje

Neum

Neum is the only seaside resort in Bosnia but the population is primarily Croatian. Motor traffic between the northern Croatian town of Ploče and southern Dubrovnik passes through the “Neum Corridor”. At the border, there are two lines – “one for travelers into Bosnia and another for those in transit to other parts of Croatia. At this border sometimes they check passports, sometimes not. Ours weren’t checked.

Medujugorje Pilgrimage – Anna Nuzzo

Počitelj

Built on a hillside near the banks of the Neretva River, Počitelj (stone town) has the longest operating international art colony in southeast Europe. The remains of Počitelj’s medieval wall surround 15th century Turkish houses, mosques, and a tower and citadel. Architecture reflects a strong Ottoman influence.

Mostar Bridge

Počitelj “fell into neglect in 1878” when Bosnia-Herzegovina was taken over by Austro-Hungarian rule. In 1992 during the Bosnian War Počitelj was bombed and most of its population displaced. In 1996, World Monuments Watch added Počitelj to a list of the world’s 100 most endangered cultural heritage sites. In 2000, the government started reconstruction encouraging Počitelj refugees to return home.

Tito’s Palace Neretva River – cherylhoward.com

Croatian Metković and Bosnian Medjugorje

Continuing through Metković and Opuzen on the way to Medjugorje, we stopped to visit the celebrated Catholic church. It’s a major spiritual site and one of the “most famous pilgrimage destinations in the Catholic world”. Since the Our Lady of Peace Apparition occurred in 1981 it’s visited by pilgrims and tourists from all over the world. I sat for a while inside the church with two other people who were praying.

Abandoned Building Mostar

Relentless rain showed no sign of letting up and made exploring uncomfortable. It’s off-season, so except for a few tourist shops selling religious statues, most businesses were closed.

Mostar Street Art – TakeUsAywhere

_____________

“In Medjugorje six trustworthy witnesses testified under oath that since the 24th of June 1981, the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Gospa has appeared to them every day up to the present.”

_____________

Mostar Vista

Mostar Bosnia and Herzegovina

We continued to Mostar, the focal point of the tour, and spent three hours walking around the city. A local guide led us through Old Town in the rain. Afterwards I found a restaurant – Hindin Han – on the riverside with views of the Neretva River and enjoyed a Bosnian lunch with interesting locals.The restaurant building is a refurbished historical home, with wooden balconies and white-wash walls.

Stari Most Mostar – cherylhoward.com

Mostar looks depressed and parts of the city are full of trash and rubble. During summer tourists bring needed income. Off season it almost seemed deserted.

Blagaj Tekke Blagaj Buna River – turizam.mostar

_____________

Mostar holds a Street Art Festival in spring, when artists from all over the world come to create new murals and works of art.

_____________

Mostar Old-Town – intheknowdventures.jpg

Through the centuries Mostar became the meeting point of various cultures and religions. The old city is divided by east and west. The east is mostly Muslim and the west Catholic. I detected some tension in the air even between our tour leader and the local Mostar guide who was clearly Muslim.

Abandoned Building Mostar

Minarets in mosques on the east side sang out the Islamic Call to Prayer – something I hadn’t heard since a trip to Istanbul in 2017. Church bells tolled in Catholic monasteries and cathedrals on the west side. Our Muslim guide told us that many Catholics converted to Islam after the Bosnian War.

Stari Most Mostar

Stari Most and Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque

Mostar’s symbol is its beautiful Stari Most, a 16th century Ottoman-style bridge that connects east and west. The bridge has rich history and it’s been bombed and damaged many times. Stari Most stood for 427 years until it was destroyed completely in 1993 during the Bosnian War and then rebuilt in 2004.

Mostar Street Art – TakeUsAywhere

_____________

Bosnia and Herzegovina has three Presidents – Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian.

_____________

House Mostar

Locals dive off the Old Bridge plunging 20 metres (65 ft.) into the river. The “practice of Bridge diving started in 1664” and became a tradition for the young men of Mostar. In 1968, the city held a formal diving competition, which continues today.

Restoran Hindin Han Mostar – Moj Restoran

Old Bridge is breathtaking and the color of the Neretva River is such a vivid bluish-green it’s almost surreal. Slowly the city is becoming a popular destination with its varied architecture, art, forests, mountains, holy sites, waterfalls, bridges, and street art. I would love to do some hiking and explore the area further during better weather.

Mostar Street Art – cherylhoward.com

Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque is another Mostar icon. You can climb the stairs following a narrow tower to the minaret where panoramic views are amazing!

Sniper Tower Mostar – Picgra

Like Istanbul, Mostar has small cafés serving Turkish tea and coffee. I had a piece of baklava – the best I’ve ever tasted!

Pocitelj Bosnia – cherylhoward.com

Abandoned Buildings and Street Art

Mostar is known for its interesting street art and abandoned buildings, many riddled with bullet holes from the Bosnian War. “Today, young artists use the buildings as canvases to protest oppression and express themselves creatively.” It reminded me of artists in Maputo Mozambique who make creative art using civil war remnants.

Neum Seaside Resort Herzegovina-Neretva Canton

Sniper Tower

Some of the abandoned buildings include a sniper tower, Neretva Hotel, and an old airport hangar. At one time the sniper tower was a bank. It’s positioned along the city’s front border. During the Bosnian War it became a “base for snipers who hid in the tower to take aim at targets”.

Interior Koski Mehmed Paša Mosque Mostar – cherylhoward.com

Today, the tower is decorated with street art and homeless people sleep there at night. You can jump over the back wall (near the Nelson Mandela quote) to explore the street art and enjoy a great view of Mostar from the top.

Počitelj Old Town Wall, Citadel, and Tower – Hit Booker

Neretva Hotel

Hotel Neretva was a grand hotel nicknamed “Tito’s Palace” after Yugoslav communist revolutionary Josip Broz Tito. It’s now a ruin. “After years of deadlock,” restoration continues at a cost of 9 million Euros.

Stormy Day Neretva River Mostar

Mostar Secret Aircraft Hangar – The Minimalist Ninja

Abandoned Airport Hangar

I didn’t see Mostar’s former top-secret underground airport hangar. It’s disguised in the mountains near the airport. Tito stationed fighter planes there to hide them from the Soviets. You can tour the hangar on your own or book a “Death of Yugoslavia Tour“. It wouldn’t have been much fun in the heavy rain.

Zrinjevac Park Mostar – Hit Booker

Bruce Lee Statue

A “weird, offbeat” sculpting of Bruce Lee is in Zrinjevac Park. Croatian sculptor Ivan Fijolic created the statue in 2005. At the time it was in Spanish Square and the artist intended it to be a “fun, lighthearted symbol of peace”. Some locals took a dislike to the statue and vandalized it. Replaced in 2013, it’s still there.

Međugorje St. James Church – commons.wikipedia.org

We didn’t visit Kravice Waterfalls outside Mostar – probably best on a hot summer day. People swim in the lake and under the waterfalls.

Rakija

_____________

“Rakija – the local moonshine – destroys bacteria, relieves stomach and muscle pain, annihilates viruses, and disinfects wounds instantly.”

_______________

Mostar War Ruin – Mostar Travel

Blagaj Tekke – The Dervish Monastery

Blagaj Tekke is another interesting place near Mostar. It’s “one of Bosnia’s most holy and ancient sites.” Built around 1520 it’s known as the Dervish Monastery and was built for Sufi gatherings. It “rests beside the fast-flowing blue-green Buna River, which spills out of a darkened cliff-cave”. Miraculously, the Monastery wasn’t damaged during the Bosnian War.

Mostar Street Art

Rakija – Local Moonshine

Our guide told us about Rakija, a homemade brandy that’s said to be “the secret weapon against all that’s enemy to man”. On the way back to Dubrovnik we stopped at a roadside café where they make and sell Rakija. Conversation was fun and lively. :)

Destruction of Stari Most Bosnian War – subir.pw

Three Presidents of Bosnia-Herzegovina

Bosnia has three presidents! Not sure why?

  1. Milorad Dodik Serbia
  2. Šefik Džaferović Bosnia-Herzegovina
  3. Željko Komšić Croatia

400 Year Old Plane Tree (Sycamore) Trsteno Arboretum – Panadea

All in all it turned out to be an amazing, educational day in Bosnia!

Opera Divas at The Church of Saint Blaise Dubrovnik

Opera Divas Church of St. Blaise

Four Opera Divas performed at the Church of Saint Blaise last night. They were fantastic!! The Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra String Quintet and pianist Alberto Frka accompanied them in a concert to honor St. Blaise. They sang songs by Croatian composers Pejačević and Jusić as well as Saint-Saëns, Rossini, Bellini, Gounod, Bach, and Mozart! The String Quintet played Haydn’s “Serenada” and it was lovely!

Alberto Frka Pianist – evarasdin.hr

Tanja Ruzdjak Soprano – kiklop portfolio

The church is small and I had no idea what to expect but arrived about 30 minutes before the performance. There were maybe 300 people and few if any tourists except me. It was a very special experience! The concert ended with the “Himna Sv Vlaha” – Hymn of St. Blaise – and everyone stood to sing it.

Altar St. Blaise Church

Jelena Stefanic Soprano – truelinked

The four divas had stunning voices:

Đelo Jusić Composer, Conductor, Guitarist – dubrovačke ljetne igre

Dora  Pejačević Composer, Pianist, and Violinist – croatia.org

I’m sad to have missed the Klapa Vocal Group Festival in Marin Drzic Theater the day before. Popular klapa groups like Maestral, Folklore Ensemble Lindo, Kumpanji, and Osjak performed. Klapa singing is a “multi part cappella homophonic singing tradition of the southern Croatian regions of Dalmatia”.

St. Blaise Festival concerts are minimally advertised by flyers posted throughout Dubrovnik. There was confusion about some of the dates and times. Luckily, I double checked on the Opera Divas concert and found out it was not on the day shown in the flyer. The charitable aspect of the festival is for the Anti-Cancer League and renovation of the Church of Saint Blaise

Terezija Kusanović Mezzo-Soprano – bbimagehandler

It was a memorable evening in Dubrovnik!

St. Blaise – Total Croatia News

Festival of St. Blaise Dubrovnik Croatia

St. Blaise saved Dubrovnik by warning the people of impending Venetian invaders. Statues of the Saint (Croatian Sveti Vlaho or Sveti Blaž) holding Dubrovnik on his palm are everywhere. Since 972 Dubrovnik has celebrated their patron and protector with a “series of concerts, exhibitions, book presentations, and theatre performances”.

Festival of St. Blaise – Total Croatia News

The Festival of St. Blaise is from February 2 through 10, but festivities begin this weekend with concerts and activities. The festival is a “celebration of Croatia’s past and a spiritual and religious unification of the city and surrounding countryside.” It’s part of Dubrovnik’s spirit and love of LIBERTAS.

Roman Goddess of Liberty – Mythology Matters

St. Blaise Festival – Croatia

Kandelora Candle Mass February 2

The actual date of the St. Blaise celebration is February 3 preceded by several days of prayer and a solemn opening Candle Mass ceremony – Kandelora – on February 2. Tolling church bells rally parishes to gather.

Festival of St. Blaise – Total Croatia News

_____________

“Kandelora begins with the release of white doves in front of the Church of St. Blaise followed by raising the Saint’s flag on Orlando Column.”

_____________

Children Kandelora Mass – Just Dubrovnik

A “laus” (well-wishing prayer) is said and girls in traditional costumes offer fruits of the land symbolizing twelve months of abundance. It’s a beautiful celebration with the flight of doves of peace, music, and the scent of laurel and candles in the air.

Kandelora in Dubrovnik – Just Dubrovnik

Meal for Reflection

Customs linked to Kandelora add to the festive atmosphere. As recommended by Saint Blaise, people share a modest lunch reflecting the tradition of charity and giving bread to the poor.  Most restaurants offer a special St. Blaise menu featuring local specialties.

St. Blaise – fresheireadventures.com

St. Blaise was imprisoned in Sebasta for years under the Roman Governor of Agricolas. During his imprisonment “an impoverished widow for whom the Saint saved a pig by miracle, visited him in prison and brought a modest meal and a candle to light his cell”. The Saint thanked the widow and asked her to “keep giving to the poor for as long as she lived, promising her God’s blessing”.

Church of St. Blaise Dubrovnik – h-r-z-hr

_____________

“Kandelora is an introduction to the Holiday of St. Blaise when majestic processions, church bells, shots from fusiliers, and hymns permeate Old Town!”

_____________

Kandelora Candlemas Dubrovnik – Just Dubrovnik

Saint Blaise Day February 3

On St Blaise’s Day people of faith from Dubrovnik and surrounding areas form a procession through Old Town. They carry banners and relics of their patron and wave church flags.

Dubrovnik Musketeers – Total Croatia News

The day begins at 6:00 am at the pier in Old City harbour with a patriotic hymn, ringing of the city bells, music, and muskets fired by a platoon of Dubrovnik musketeers. This celebration is followed by mass in the Church of St. Blaise, a parade of Grand Masters, musketeers, city band, and standard bearers throughout Old City, and a banquet in honor of St. Blaise.

I’m staying in Dubrovnik for a few extra days just to experience the St. Blaise Festival. In addition to the actual ceremony on February 3rd I’ll attend two concerts and other activities. Most festivities are free and open to the public. I’m especially looking forward to these concerts:

Pier Dubrovnik Old Town – flickr

More later…

Montenegro

Tours from Dubrovnik are difficult to find in winter, so I was happy to book a tour to Montenegro with GetYourGuide, a Berlin-based company operating throughout Europe. It was a full day led by local Amico Tours. I’m considering Montenegro or Sarajevo as my next stop and day trips will help me decide.

Mausoleum of Njegos Lovcen Mountain Montenegro

We began at 7 am and returned to Dubrovnik 11 hours later. Our group of five included a Chinese mother and daughter from Shanghai on a long European trip, a young couple from Santiago Chile, and me. Our Bosnian guide and driver shared fascinating Montenegrin geography, culture, history, and folktales with us. As usual the vast amount of information was a bit overwhelming – at least for me.

View from Petar Petrovic Njegos Mausoleum – Old Town Kotor Hostel

Our Lady of the Rocks and Benedictine Monastery Islands Perast – dubrovnik-tours.hr

Winter Weather Croatia and Montenegro

I’m learning about weather in the Balkans and had rescheduled once because of heavy rain. Winter rain patterns come fast and furious and can clear quickly, but not always. When rain is in the forecast it doesn’t necessarily mean all day, and for a winter day trip, rain or shine is usually OK. We had heavy morning rain and a few rays of sunshine in the afternoon followed by light rain. It wasn’t a great day for photography. Even with a raincoat and umbrella, I got a little wet.

Kotor Clocktower

Konavle Valley and Bay of Kotor

Our southeast route to Montenegro passed small villages like Mlini and Cavtat, birthplace of Croatian painter Vlaho Bukovac, and continued through the Konavle Valley to the Bay of Kotor. The fertile valley is sometimes called the Gulf of Croatia. It’s known for granaries, canals, and abundant “waterfalls and watermills” generated from the Ljuta, Kopačica, and Konavočica Rivers.

Croatian Painter Vlaho Bukovac

Budva Old Town – Chasing the Donkey

On the way to Kotor we passed several Montenegrin villages – Herceg Novi, BijelaVerige, DobrotaPerast, and Risan. Over the years, Illyrians, Romans, Slavs, Celts, Greeks, Venetians, Spaniards, French, Ottomans, pirates, and others invaded Montenegro. The small country finally gained independence in 2006.

Church of St. Luke Kotor – Travel East

Although Montenegro just started the process of joining the EU,  the Euro is its local currency. Today there’s a strong Russian influence, and in recent years wealthy Russian investors have changed Montenegro.

Kotor St. Nikola Church

Perast

A UNESCO World heritage site, Perast is a quiet village. We stopped for coffee and even with rain and poor visibility marveled at the bay and its two tiny islands. One is home to Our Lady of the Rocks (Gospa od Škrpjela) Church and the other Saint George Benedictine Monastery. St. George Island is closed to tourists but during the summer, you can take a boat to visit Our Lady of the Rocks Church.

Perast Marina

Our Lady of the Rocks is on a man-made island. “The island’s folklore began on July 22, 1452 when two sailors returning from a difficult voyage discovered an icon of the Madonna and Child resting on a rock in a shallow part of the Bay. They considered their find a miracle and vowed to build a church on the spot. Over time the sailors dropped stones around the spot where the icon was found, slowly creating an islet and then building a small chapel.”

Sokol Tower Konavle Valley – Adventure Dalmatia

Over the years dropping stones in the water around the church became a tradition for sailors. The ritual had a dual purpose – strengthening the tiny island’s foundation and “asking the Virgin Mother to bring them safely home”. Today the tradition is part of “one of Europe’s oldest sailing regattas, the Fašinada“.

Dobrota Village Montenegro – mylittleadventure

_____________

“During the Fašinada regatta, at sunset on July 22 countless local boats decorated with garlands sail out into the Bay to drop a stone around the island and Our Lady of the Rocks Church.”

_____________

Kotor City Walls to St. John Fort – montenegro-for.me

The church contains 68 paintings by Tripo Kokolja, a 17th-century baroque artist from Perast. There are also paintings by Italian masters, and an icon (circa 1452) of Our Lady of the Rocks by Venetian painter Lovro Dobričević.

Tripo Kokolja Sibile from the Church of Our Lady of Škrpjela

Map of Balkan Countries

“The church has a collection of silver votive tablets and a tapestry embroidered by Jacinta Kunić-Mijović, the wife of a Montenegrin seaman. It took her 25 years to finish the tapestry she made while waiting for her husband to return from long journeys at sea. She used golden and silver fibers but what makes the tapestry famous is that she embroidered her own hair in it.” The folktale goes that the hair woven changed from dark to gray as she grew older.

Kotor Montenegro – croisieurope

Saint George is a natural island. It’s home to 12th century Saint George Benedictine Monastery and has an old graveyard for Perast and Kotor nobility.

St. Triphon’s Cathedral Kotor

Verige and Risan

Verige (chains in Croatian) is named for chains that were placed throughout its bay to damage or sink enemy ships. Inaccessible limestone cliffs helped protect Risan from pirates and other invaders. Konavle Cliffs are part of the Orjen mountain range in the Adriatic Dinarides. Risan has a famous Roman villa with mosaics dating from the 2nd and early 3rd century AD. Today it’s a popular beach town.

Island of St. George Perast – @poseidonsreach

Side View Church of St. Luke Kotor

_____________

“For about 12.5 miles, the steep inaccessible limestone Cliffs of Konavle sprawl along the coast from Cavtat to Molunat and fall vertically into the Adriatic Sea.”

_____________

Medieval Street Budvar Old Town

Kotor

Kotor is one of the “prettiest towns in Montenegro”, known for its ancient fortified city walls, Venetian-inspired architecture, and maritime history. It’s located “deep down the Boka Kotorska Bay” and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Kotor Canal Kampana Tower

There are many interesting churches, palaces, and monasteries in Kotor, especially the Cathedral of Sveti Tripun “mentioned for the first time in IX century.” It’s a symbol of the city and the seat of the Catholic Bishopric of Kotor.

Kotor Old Town Clock Tower Montenegro

There are ten churches in Kotor and Orthodox Christians outnumber Catholics. Locals have “acknowledged the peaceful coexistence between the two religions”. Orthodox Christians attend or partake in Catholic celebrations and vice versa. Kotor’s Christmas season lasts into January since Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas Day on or near January 7.

Kotor Palace Old Town

A hike to the top of the city walls leads to St. John Fortress and a phenomenal view of the Bay of Kotor! I was looking forward to the hike, but heavy rain and a notoriously slippery path made it too dangerous. The weather cleared a bit, and we got some stunning views and photos while continuing our journey into the hills.

Vlaho Bukovac Daydreams – largesizepaintings.blogspot.com

_____________

Lord Byron famously called Montenegro’s coastline the planet’s ‘most beautiful encounter between land and sea’.

_____________

House Old Town Kotor

The annual Lovcen International Hill-Climb Race takes place in the Kotor hills on dangerous curvy roads full of sharp turns. The race is named after Lovcen National Park in the Dinara Alps. During the 2018 race a driver survived a crash that sent his car somersaulting through the air into a boulder!

Budva Montenegro – adriaticdmc.hr

The Dinaric Alps are part of the Balkan Dinara Mountain Range and a popular adventure sport location for climbing, hiking, skiing, and sky diving. Most of the Adriatic islands belong to this system because in earlier geo history the “western parts of the mountain range were partly submerged by seawater “.

Ferry from Lepetane to Kamenari – Doo Pomorski Saobraćaj

Budva

Budva is a popular Mediterranean tourist town known for its beautiful beaches and vibrant nightlife. Budva has over 30 sand, pebble, and rock beaches. The sand in some areas is an extraordinary pink from the color of local rocks. Near Budva there are endless possibilities for adventurous recreational activities. Lovcen National Park, Lake Skadar National Park, Durmitor National Park, Mount Ostrog, Tara Canyon, and Biogradska Gora National Park are popular destinations.

Pink Sand Beach Sveti Stefan – depositphotos

Beautiful Painting Vlaho Bukovac

Konavle Cliffs – Agroturizam Konavle

Budva’s famous award-winning nightclub Top Hill is one of the largest and best nightclubs in Europe. Open-air performances are 600 meters (2,000 feet) above the sea with magnificent Adriatic views.

St. Stefan Island – adriaicdmc.hr

I walked Budva’s Old Town in the rain. Smaller than Dubrovnik and Kotor it’s described as a “Venetian maze of cobblestone streets, anchored by a 15th century citadel”. Except for a few shops, it was a winter ghost town.

Konavle Canal – Just Dubrovnik

You can’t help but notice that many palm trees in Budva, Kotor, and Dubrovnik look dreadful. Our guide said this is because palm moths and weevils are killing them and no one has discovered a remedy. It’s really sad.

National Restaurant Konavoski Dvori Ljuta River Konavle

There are many stray cats in Budva and Dubrovnik. Our guide explained that the cats were brought to Montenegro and Dubrovnik during the great bubonic plague to kill rats carrying the disease. Thousands died during the epidemic. To address the situation, Dubrovnik “issued an interesting decree where anyone who lived abroad had to spend 40 days in quarantine at one of the nearby islands before entering the city”.

St. John Fortress Kotor – Afar

Sveti Stefan, Petar Petrovic Njegos Mausoleum, Sokol Tower

Three interesting places we didn’t visit on our tour are Sveti Stefan Island near Budva,  the Petar Petrovic Njegos Mausoleum, Montenegro’s greatest writer, and Sokol Tower, a medieval remain near Dubrovnik. I’d like to visit Petar Petrovic Njegos Mausoleum, and Sokol Tower, but they’re both in isolated locations and would require hiring a guide for a private tour – very expensive in winter.

Verige – Montenegro Travel

Sveti Stefan

Sveti Stefan is one of the “most famous and prestigious places in Montenegro”. It’s a tiny island near Budva. Once a fishing village, it’s now a high-end five-star luxury resort. It’s connected to the mainland by a narrow bridge, with “stone houses packed together on top of the rocks”. Guests “stay in individual rooms or rent entire villas with private pools, terraces, and magnificent sea views”.

Orjen Mountain Range Dinaric Alps – discover-montenegro.com

Petar Petrovic Njegos Mausoleum

Petar Petrovic Njegos, Prince-Bishop of Montenegro, was a revered ruler, poet, and philosopher. His magnificent mausoleum is situated at the top of the second-highest peak on Mount Lovćen, Jezerski Vrh (1657 m). “To get there you climb 461 steps to the entrance where two granite giants guard the tomb of Montenegro’s greatest writer”.

Our Lady of the Rocks, Venetian Painter Lovro Dobričević

View from Petrovic Njegos Mausoleum

Sokol Tower

The earliest records of Sokol Tower appear in Dubrovnik archives from 1391. The isolated location “suggests that a fortress existed on this spot since the time of the Illyrians, Greeks, and Romans”. Sokol Tower was “a weapons arsenal and used for storing emergency supplies”. The tower survived the great earthquake of 1667. It’s now owned by the Association of Friends of Dubrovnik Antiquities.

Inside Kotor Cathedral

_____________

The view from Petar Petrovic Njegos Mausoleum is breathtaking – “it’s the best panoramic view of Montenegro”.

_____________

Side Street Old Town Budva Montenegro – adriaticdmc.hr

Luxury Yachts and Resorts

Montenegro and Croatia are popular summer destinations for Europe’s rich. Rapid development in Montenegro is obvious from the unseemly mix of new architecture in some areas. Wealthy Russians and Germans purchased land and built apartments and luxury resorts that are out of character with existing medieval architecture. This is especially noticeable in Budva, known for government corruption. There are no building restrictions or codes, but hopefully this will change.

Saint George Benedictine Monastery Perast Montenegro – Emerging Europe

Owners of luxury yachts often visit Montenegro and Croatia. I forget the details of a new port being built near Herceg Novi to accommodate the summer onslaught of superyachts. One superyacht, Eclipse, owned by German billionaire Roman Abramovich visits the area annually.

Budva Montenegro – adriaticdmc.hr

Back to Dubrovnik

At the end of the day we took the ferry from Lepetane to Kamenari to cross the Bay of Kotor heading back to Dubrovnik. There were few tourists on the ferry and it was fun mingling with locals. Of course each way we had border crossings which in summer can require as long as 10 hours of waiting!!! Compared to borders in Africa and South America, the border crossings were tame.

Yugoslavia

This blog post is long, but there’s so much to learn about the area, including Adriatic cultureYugoslav and Balkans Wars, and the Croatian War of Independence. Every village along the Bay of Kotor has an interesting story. Glad I have more time here!

God Hypnos on Mosaic Risan Montenegro

Church of St. Mary Kotor – Travel East