Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Summer vacation part 4, Plitvice National park in Croatia

After visiting various old towns, monuments and touristic cities in Croatia we were ready for the nature portion of our vacation.  We had been very excited about visiting this park in Croatia which had been on our target list for a long time.  Plitvice National park is a UNESCO world heritage site which features a large network of gorgeous lakes and waterfalls in the North Central part of Croatia.  Words don't do justice to describe such a beautiful place, so I will attach some photos we took from the hike.  Our family hiked 8km (5miles) through the park and followed a route which 4-6 hours of time is recommended.  The middle of the hike featured a boat ride which took us across one major lake and to another next set of smaller lakes.  The hike was literally a network of lakes and waterfalls surrounded by lush greenery.  The turquoise blue water of the lakes was stunning and the water was so pure an unpolluted as they do not allow anyone to swim or fish in the area.  If you ever decide to plan a vacation to Croatia, I highly recommend a stop in this wonderful place. It is easily reachable by car or bus from the coastal city of Split.  It is also fairly close to the capital of Zagreb. Our family made the drive by rental car from Split which made it easy and flexible to get to the park and nearby hotels.  Plitvice National park is truly one of Croatia's greatest treasures and a place everyone should get a chance to visit.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summer vacation part 3, side trip to Mostar, Bosnia and Herzgovinia

Perhaps the most interesting side trip and most unique place we visited during our entire vacation was the city of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  This interesting country has a very complicated history and was  involved in a bitter war in the mid 1990s.  The country is actually divided into 3 distinct areas, The republic of Srpska (Serbia), Bosnia and lastly Herzegovina.  The geographic area we visited was west Herzegovina. The city of Mostar is the main city in the republic of Herzgovina.  Mostar was known as one of the major campaigns in the brutal war which rocked this area for several years. The war is now over but the psychical and mental scars of the city and people remain.  The damage was apparent as we noticed many buildings with large bullet holes which had been shelled during the war.  The highlight of the trip was a visit to the famous Mostar bridge which divides the city in half.  This 500 year old bridge was completely destroyed in the war in 1993, but now it is beautifully reconstructed to it's original dimensions.  The bridge is a tourist magnet today and many young locals stand on the bridge collecting money and later when they have collected a total of 25 euros will jump into the icy river below.  It is a thrilling and scary plunge of 24 meters (80 feet).  Bridge diving has been a tradition of Mostar for hundreds of years.  The old city was very interesting and featured cobblestone streets and vendors selling local goods everywhere.  Mostar has many different ethnic groups and religions now attempting to live together and there is even a strong Muslim presence with minarets and Turkish mosques in the city.  The old town itself is relatively small and can be covered in a day on foot.  Mostar has only been on the tourist path for about a decade and is still relatively cheap. Mostar has had a painful history and the local economy is still hurting, but you can see change happening as the locals are proud of their city and background.   We really enjoyed the day trip into this historical old city situated beautifully on a river.  I would suggest it for any adventurous traveler who is considering a trip to the former Yugoslavia.


Mostar bridge

War torn past

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Summer vacation part 2, side trip to Montenegro

Have you even heard of Montenegro?  You might not have because this tiny nation just South of Croatia recently  received it's independence from Yugoslavia (Serbia) in 2006.  Montenegro means "black mountains" and it is apparent when you see the mountains from above almost spill into the sea.  At one point you might think you were exploring a fjord in Norway, however that is not the case as they are coastal mountains. Montenegro is currently known as the newest country in Europe.  Our family did a day trip from Dubrovnik, Croatia to explore the Montenegrin coastal cities of Perast, Kotor and Budva.  The views were absolutely stunning on the Southern Dalmatian coast and through the Bay of Kotor to our first stop in Perast.  In Perast we took a small ferry to visit the man made rock islet containing the "Our lady of the rocks" church.  Rumor has it that an icon of lady Madonna was found at this site and then sailors laid rocks down in the Bay over many years until finally an islet was formed. The island featured an interesting chapel and museum.  Soon we ventured back to our bus and traveled to our next stop which was the old city of Kotor.  Kotor is unique walled city quite similar to Dubrovnik, but a bit smaller and even older.  We walked around the old city while fighting the cruise ship passengers at the same time since their cruise ship was docked in the harbor.  After a tasty lunch and stroll around the cobbled old town we made our way to our final destination in Montenegro.  The last stop was a city called Budva.  Budva is more touristic than Kotor and also featured a small old town surrounded by a medieval wall.  All of these little coastal cities were scenic and unique in their own rights and definitely worth a visit should you have a chance to get down here.  Tourism is starting to pour into little Montenegro and it should be positive for the people and the economy.  I know we enjoyed our visit and would hope for more time in the future for a longer stay.

Inside "Our Lady of the rocks" church museum

City of Perast in Kotor Bay

Church of "Our lady of the rocks"

Kotor Bay

Back streets of Kotor

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Summer vacation part 1, Dubrovnik, Croatia

My family recently completed a nearly three week tour of Eastern Europe.  We spent the largest percentage of our time in Croatia, which included an entire week in Dubrovnik.  Dubrovnik is sometimes called the pearl of the Adriatic and it features a beautifully preserved city with medieval walls built along the seashore.  We stayed in a wonderful villa just outside the downtown (Lapad district) with my extended family.  Old town Dubrovnik is relatively small and can be explored in one day, however the Southern Dalmatian coast is very scenic and stretches a long distance and can take several days to see. The prices were cheaper than Finland and central Europe, but not as cheap as you might expect considering it is the former Yugoslavia and suffered a major war just over 20 years ago.  During the week in Croatia we relaxed around the pool and beach most of the time, although we did a few day trip excursions to both Mostar in neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina and a trip to a few beautiful coastal cities in the small country of Montenegro.  We had a wonderful stay in Dubrovnik and enjoyed several trips to the medieval walled city soaking in the gorgeous seaside views and spending equal time relaxing by both the villa's swimming pool and nearby beach.   Capitalism has hit this area hard since the war tragically rocked the city in the early 90s.  68% of the city was destroyed, but it has been beautifully restored now. Now you can expect fairly expensive cab fares, souvenirs on every corner and vendors ready to sell you a trip to a nearby Island or day excursion to a neighboring country.  However, relatively speaking Croatia is still much cheaper than Finland, but you probably already knew that.  :)   Stay tuned for more blog posts from Eastern Europe.