I left my heart in Sarajevo

Sarajevo BridgeSarajevo’s facade is marked with the scars of a complex and troubled past. It wears its blemishes like a handsome man wears a scar – pausing to recall its presence only when a curious stranger’s gaze lingers just a second too long. Like the man, this city’s face suggests suffering and pain, the depths of which cannot be understood by those blessed with porcelain perfection. But scars fade; they become part of a face we love until they are no more important than the eyes or the nose. Sarajevo has soldiered on from troubled times to become a handsome city, a city that intrigues newcomers as it wraps its subtle spell around their soul. Here is a place that, despite all the odds, offers spirit, fight and humour at every turn. But more importantly, its hidden depths and untold secrets give it more than just a hint of the exotic.

SarajevoVisitors can be forgiven for asking “but what is there to do in Sarajevo?” After all, Bosnia is a place that has been largely forgotten by the media since it no longer provides shocking photographs for the rest of the world to shake their heads over as they sip their morning coffee. To that question I respectfully suggest the following answer – nothing! Sarajevo is not a city to visit with a checklist. You can try, but I guarantee it won’t last very long. You’ll soon find yourself drawn to Baščaršija (the Old Town) for a coffee, or back to that little place with the cakes straight from a celestial oven. Before you know it, three hours have passed and oh dear that gallery you wanted to visit has now closed for the day.

Still not convinced? Imagine this. Leaving your hotel, you stroll through the cobbled streets of the Baščaršija bazaar, listening to the tap tap tap of the metal workers creating intricate ornaments in their workshops. You pass a beautifully ornate Mosque on your left and a regal Church on your right. You stop to admire a piece of hand-crafted jewellery, drawn in by it’s distinctively Turkish aura, and realise that you can buy it because it’s a steal. You stop for a Bosnian coffee, feeling very exotic pouring the thick black liquid from a golden jug and nibbling on your Turkish delight. You sit for a while on your velvet covered throne watching the world go by, before strolling the ten steps to your new favourite bar. The muslin draped couches and decorative cushions beckon to you and you decide to indulge yourself and order large beers that sit comfortably within even the smallest budget. Afterwards you can decide – a quiet bar with friendly locals happy to while away an hour in your company or a popular club where the waiters serve customers according to some secret ritual that you haven’t been let in on.  When you’ve had enough you stroll back through the same cobbled streets to your hotel, perhaps pausing at a fountain or stopping to admire the seductive window display of a shop you could swear wasn’t there yesterday.

Maybe you won’t bother with that gallery tomorrow either….

Cilipi Folklore – Embrace your inner tourist

Every Sunday the quiet little village of Cilipi becomes something of a paradox. Traditionally clad men and women stroll around against a backdrop of tour buses, SLR zoom lenses and loud speakers. The Cilipi Folklore extravaganza is in session!Cilipi Folklore

The Science Bit

Getting to Cilipi couldn’t be easier. Both Dubrovnik and Cavtat have a tourist bus service that takes you there and back. From the Cavtat bus station it costs 25Kn each way (€3.30) and it really is the best option. There is no point in lingering in Cilipi afterwards and the buses depart right after the show. The only downside is that you will arrive in Cilipi quite early – around 10am – and the show starts at 11.15am.

What to See

Folk GroupEntry to the village of Cilipi is charged at 45Kn (€6) and for this you get access to the market, entry to the museum, a shot of liquer in the wine cellar and a view of the show.
The museum is interesting but won’t take very long. Unless you are particularly interested in embroidery the market isn’t very exciting. A couple of stalls also sell some traditional sweets, oils, souvenirs, etc but it is 90% embroidered goods. Down in the wine cellar you can enjoy music performed by the folk group while you sip your drink.
I would advise you to take a book in case you find yourself having exhausted all Cilipi has to offer in advance of the show start time. You can buy a coffee in the little cafe (8Kn/€1) to while away some of the time before the show starts. Alternatively, you can attend mass with the locals in the lovely church in the square.

The Show

Cilipi Folklore CoupleAt 11.15am (after mass) the show commences. You will enjoy traditional music and dancing from the Konvale region, explained by the MC in Croatian, English, French and German. The show lasts around 30-40 mins and is highly enjoyable. The MC will explain the purpose of the dance and you will see some elements of a wedding procession. In the final dance some lucky people will be selected to participate – if you fancy a waltz with a traditionally clad partner be sure to sit on one of the front steps for the show.

While this is definitely an incredibly “touristy” activity it is none the less very enjoyable. It only takes a morning and you will have some excellent photo memories to take away.

Cavtat – Dubrovnik’s little sister!

Most descriptions of Cavtat [sav-tat] will tell you that the town is only 20KM from Dubrovnik. However, looking at Cavtat as simply a convenient launch pad for visiting Dubrovnik really does this charming little place an injustice.Cavtat from Mausoleum Steps

Cavtat is a resort town and has all the trappings that go with that – the mandatory souvenir shops, the menus with little language flags, the “apartment to let” signs. But unlike some resort towns, the people of Cavtat don’t appear to have the sole aim of relieving you of your money. There is a single excursion stand on the waterfront and you can walk past without having to do the “let me pass” shuffle with an overenthusiastic guide who insists that his tour is the best tour in the whole of the land, maybe even on the whole planet. When you stop to admire an item in a shop you are not immediately pounced on by someone telling you how much the yellow banana hat really suits you and that they will give you a “very good price”.

If you want a party town, Cavtat is not for you as it attracts mainly older couples and some families. I visited in October, about 2 weeks before the end of their tourist season and it was very quiet. The weather changed on my last days and the people disappeared – I was the only person in my restaurant on my last night. However, my experience may not be representative of the town in the high season.  Perhaps it was more laid back as the season was winding down. Or maybe all the parties were around some corner I never found!

Language

Almost everyone speaks some English as all Croatians learn in school. If you want to throw a few phrases into your conversations check out my little cheat sheet. I have found that most people appreciate any small effort you make, even if it’s just please (maw-leem) or thanks (ha-va-la). I’ve also included some useful sign words.

Sights

The town is small and you could easily walk the whole place in an hour if you didn’t stop anywhere, and most of that time would be spent on the steps! Boat excursions can be booked on the waterfront or at the two booking offices on the bus station side of town. Some of my favourite sights were:

Our Lady of the Snow Church / Franciscan Monastery

MonasteryI felt like I’d already been here before when I arrived, I had seen so many pictures of it. Every Sunday and Monday night there is a classical concert in the monastery cloisters.  Tickets go on sale at 8pm and the concert is at 9pm.

Racic Family Mausoleum [Raach-eech]
View from MausoleumThere are about a million steps but it is definitely worth it. The view over the town from the steps is worth the effort even if you don’t go all the way. The mausoluem is beautiful and the view amazing (title image) – not a bad place to spend eternity! It costs 10Kn (€1.30) to go in where you can see depictions of the three stages – birth, life and death. The mausoleum was built entirely from stone, with only the door and the bell being made from bronze.
The Town
Cavtat TownTear yourself away from the waterfront and wander around the streets (and steps) of Cavtat. You will find windy laneways, intricate gateways and beautiful buildings. As there are no cars in the heights of the town you will come across many locals walking around, some of whom will be happy to stop and chat.
Sunset on the waterfront
Cavtat Sunset
With the two sides of the bay jutting out, the Church on the left and the odd boat sailing in the photo opportunities are amazing. Add in a gelato and you’re in heaven!

Dubrovnik

Cavtat Dubrovnik FerryShould you want to take a trip to Dubrovnik you have two options – ferry and bus. The bus runs every hour and costs 17Kn (€2.30). It takes approx. 40 minutes. The ferry is more expensive but it is certainly an experience. It takes 50 minutes and costs 80Kn (€10.60) for a return. The last ferry back from Dubrovnik is quite early in the evening, so if you plan on doing a day trip you will want to take an early morning ferry across.

Eating & Drinking

The majority of restaurants in Cavtat all range around the 100-150Kn (€13-€20) mark for a main course but there are both more expensive and cheaper options to be found. There are two supermarkets (I also spotted a Lidl on the way in) if you are self catering. There are several ATMs throughout the town.

Some guide prices:
Gelato cone – 7Kn / 94c (and they’re not mean with the scoop!)
Small bottle water on waterfront – 10Kn / €1.34
Large bottle water in supermarket – 6Kn / 80c
Bottle of local beer in supermarket – 6Kn / 80c
Coffee – 10-20Kn / €1.30-€2.60

Some of the restaurants I enjoyed were:

Pekarnica Peco Bakery
Nice little bakery on the bus station side of the town. A nicely sized pizza for one or a ham and cheese pastry with a coke costs just 31Kn (€4). They also sell a range of pastries, including donuts for 5Kn (67c) or baklava for 15Kn (€2).

Ancora Winebar
Lovely staff and a beautiful view of the water from the terrace. Two plates of tapas and a coke cost 108Kn (€14.40). Wifi is available.

Posejdon
From the terrace of this restaurant you have a view of the area of the waterfront roped off with two goals, so you can watch if any locals are playing. A toasted ham & cheese with a plate of fries and a small beer will set you back only 53Kn (€7).

Cafe Bar Delfin
This cafe bar is just outside the doors of the Church of St. Nicholas on the waterfront. The major selling point of this place for me was the free wifi. A small local beer costs 13Kn (€1.74) and imported beers e.g. Corona cost 22Kn (€2.94).

Dolium Restaurant
This was my little treat and it was well worth it. The staff are so friendly and the food is delicious. The octopus salad and fillet of seabass, with 1.5 local beers cost 245Kn (€33). There is a 12Kn cover charge but you do get as much bread as you want, a sardine appetizer and a glass of the local herb schnapps to finish.

All conversions based on today’s rate at xe.com

More information on Cavtat at:
Tourism Cavtat
Tourist Board of Konvale

Oh oh…I might love Australia

Image: Worakit Sirijinda / FreeDigitalPhotos.netAustralia has more things that can kill you than anywhere else in the world. Land or sea.

This has been my life’s motto for many years now. When my best friend selfishly decided to fall in love with an Aussie and he forced her to return to Sydney with him* I was distraught. How could I visit? I would surely step off the plane and into the jaws of a waiting anaconda (do they even have anacondas? I don’t know and I’m sure as hell not going to google it). Okay, so I’ve never actually heard of a tourist being mauled to death by a giant spider, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen!

We joked about room-sealing and about fashioning a transparent bubble for me to live in. I concocted elaborate theories about what floor of a hotel it would be best to stay in (the very middle, in case you’re interested). But all the while, in the back of my mind, I knew I would never see her home. I knew I would never walk her (future) kids to school, the cool visiting aunty that they would make colourful but illegible crayon drawings for. I was too afraid of everything. I might die. But even worse than that, I might be SCARED by something and PANIC!

Now, I find myself with a travel itinerary that says Sydney on it, with a gap of six whole weeks in between arrival and departure. And a plan to go to rural NSW for Christmas, to a place where I will have absolutely no control over anti-scary-things arrangements. This is BIG.

After I booked my ticket I could frequently be heard saying “I’d not even be going to Australia if my friend wasn’t there” or “nope, no travelling around for me, I’ll probably just bum around Sydney for six weeks”.

And then everything changed.

My friend emailed me and said “hey, we’re heading to Adelaide for Christmas and flights are $300”. I thought that sounded a little expensive so I went to my trusty travel advisor, Ms. Google, and checked out the trains. That’s the day I found Great Southern Rail and the Indian Pacific rail journey. How could I possibly go to Australia and not experience one of the world’s longest and most scenic rail journeys? [This great six-part piece on The Professional Hobo also helped to convince me]

The next day, my friend emailed me again and said “hey, change of plans; turns out we’re going to be staying NSW for Christmas”. The churn of disappointment in my stomach floored me.  Wait a second; I actually wanted to take a train across the outback….the outback, that place where scary-things actually LIVE.

So today, I find myself with a new plan. The week before Christmas I hope to drive both the Great Alpine Road and the Great Ocean Road, stopping in Melbourne & Adelaide for a quick look-see, and returning to Sydney by rail. [I have Sydney Melbourne Touring to thank for the driving part]. And even more surprising, my inability to fit in the Ghan from Adelaide to Darwin has become a source of some disappointment to me.  

So there you have it – transformation from scaredy-cat to hesitant-but-excited-adventurer in just two websites. My excitement comes with just one disclaimer; if I do get eaten or mauled by scary-things, please don’t read this at my funeral!

(*depiction may not accurately reflect real-life events)

Image: Worakit Sirijinda / FreeDigitalPhotos.net