One of our favorite things about traveling has been discovering new parts of the world and the rich history of each new place; routinely starting out our exploration with a guided tour at each destination. So when we arrived in Dubrovnik and learned that its location was essentially a junction of three nations, we jumped at the chance to book visits to both Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina to broaden our discovery of the region. While I certainly have not become an expert of the complex past of these countries in just a few short days, I did my best to sort through the flood of information we gathered and have tried to paint a bit of context below.
**This is my official disclaimer that I may not have gotten all the details right, so feel free to correct or forgive me!
As I mentioned in my recent post about Croatia, Dan and I knew little about this corner of the world before arriving last week. Outside of our brief knowledge that it was once a part of Yugoslavia, and that it had suffered war in recent past, everything we learned was new information. Croatia was one of six (current) countries that formed the KIngdom of Yugoslavia that was established post-WWII and subsequently dissolved through a series of regional wars in the 80’s and 90’s. Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Macedonia join Croatia as being independent countries; each with its own government and culture. Bearing both the visible and invisible scars of these war-stricken times, this area is still healing. For example, when we were with our Croatian tour guide visiting Bosnia and a fellow tourist asked about the war, he kindly asked us to revisit our conversation upon our return to Croatian soil; highlighting the still-delicate nature of intra-country relations.
But enough of my meager attempt at summarizing decades of conflict in one quick post! I’ll change my tune and tell you some of the wonderful things we experienced once we crossed the borders…
On Tuesday, we committed to a twelve-hour tour of Montenegro with a bus filled with other tourists. Wary of another long trip on a bathroomless bus, our enthusiasm to see beautiful Montenegro (a spot that my friend Michaja had originally put on my radar via a very enthusiastic email with an amazing photo) won over! On the itinerary was a visit to Budva and Kotor, two cities located within a couple hours drive of Dubrovnik. Montenegro being the most recent country to claim its independence (from Serbia in only 2006) it has undergone a lot of change in a very short amount of time. Most notable fact was that Budva, a coastal city in the northern part of the country, had become home to over 200 millionaires in recent years–accomplished by international investment in their real estate! We saw quite a few nice cars zipping around this town as we enjoyed our lunch of mussels and kebab at a local establishment. Kotor, by contrast, still boasts a walled old city with much of its original architecture still in place. For the ambitious traveler, you could climb 1360 steps to its lookout point to see broad views of the city, but feeling less adventurous than normal, we chose to enjoy a tour of the city and sat outside a street cafe in lieu of exercise this time around…
On Wednesday, we joined a nice older couple from San Diego on a wine tour in Bosnia. With an 8:30 AM pick-up time, a harrowing drive along VERY windy coastal roads, we were sampling our first wines by 10:00 AM (at a monastery of all places!). Bosnia and Herzegovina being hit the hardest during wartime, much of the country is still in need of rebuilding, but one thing our onsite guide told us was that monasteries were often the first things to be reconstructed; the commitment to their Orthodox faith a priority. After enjoying the gorgeous landscape of the monastary, in place (and rebuilt more than once) since the sixth century and shown below, we set off to a more modern winery built by a local family in the mid-eighties. There we enjoyed samples alongside a gourmet four-course luncheon of veal and fish. We sampled Bosnian ham and cheese and had a dessert reminiscent of baklava. All was amazing! We managed to escape with only purchasing one $7.50 bottle of their local wine, Vranac, an earthy red with notes of berries (or so the sommelier told us!); our backpacks once again restricting our number of souvenirs!
All in all, we are so glad we chose to visit these two countries while in Croatia as an opportunity like this will likely not present itself again anytime soon! Up next?? Zurich, Switzerland!!