Mostar and Split

Time for another day in the car and now we left the narrow streets of Sarajevo and went to Mostar and finally Split in Croatia. Mostar which a lot of people has spoken them selfs warm about Mostar but myself, I think it was one if the biggest tourist trap in the world. People were trying to sell souvenirs to you everywhere and you had to fight your way through the crowd of people to be able to the see the famous bridge (which is fake since the blew up the original one during the war). Once you see the bridge you get wow…yea..its a bridge, Ive seen it before. Anyway, we where there, we saw it and we went to a restaurant and order a kebab, which looked like ordinary beef stew, tasted like ordinary beef stew and the price…like a really really nice steak. From here we left to Split and after a short while we came up on newly built highway so new that they wasn’t exactly finished with the exits, gas stations or road toll booths.

On the highway everything went on in high speed and what a difference it is between Croatia along the coast and Croatia inland, its like two completly different countries and here along the cost you dont see any bombed house, ruins or rusty old yugo cars. Here everything is newly built, modern and fresh. Not much left of our trip and in one kind of way it already feels like its over. Croatia doesnt feel like the rest of the balkan, to be honest this could be like any other western european country.

More of Croatia

On our way north it really felt like we left the Balkan peninsula. We drove along the coastline and its just like I said before completely different from how it look inland. The road is perfect, if you had a MC, it goes along the coast with a beautiful scenery, a bit winding and up and down over the hills. Not the same feeling with a car, especially not our car but it works fine and if you think of how many miles we been driving the car is really awesome, even if not has started to squeak every time we turn right. I really recommend the road from Split to Rijeka along the coast if you have plenty of time, I think our average speed was around 50km/h and one bike after another passed but who cares when you have the Adriatic sea to the left and high mountains to the right.

Our only goal for the day was to visit the national park Paklenica in a last attempt to see some wild animals. However its normally a good idea to do some research before except looking at the map and say, there is an nationalpark, lets go there and see some animals, we failed! Instead of founding animals we found Croatia and one of europes biggest climbing spots, in other words not a single bird, goat or any other animal but a mountain filled with people trying to climb it in all sorts of way. We may have seen a dolphin in the sea but more likely it was just an ordinary buoy. Even if the park wasn’t really what we looked for we took a small walk and I understand why people go here. While walking a small creek uphill you had plenty of different routes to take if you wanted to climb, from easy to diamond and it looked really neat!

We drove on an once the sun were about to set we decided to stop for the night. My idea that Croatia could be any western country were for sure found a big concrete building to hotel that couldn’t be more “eastern Europe”. This is true Tito spirit and I guess this is the exception that prove the rule, even here in Croatia we can find traces from the old Yugoslavian era. Its not really cheap either but compared to that newly built 5-star hotel next door, this one is cheaper!

Summery of the Balkan express

So this express trip is over and I will try to do an summery of it, country by country. Of course since I spent a couple of days per country I don’t really know what I’m talking about but its an first impression after visited and talked to people. I´ll start with the overall impression and then continue to the country listed by the order we visited them.

In common for all countries I never felt unsafe anywhere or anytime. We tried everything from some tiny gravel roads to wide highway and overall they were really good, the worst roads we actually found in Austria and Germany which was kind a odd. English works overall without any problem even if you of course will find exceptions with the older population (works better in Slovenia/Croatia than in Serbia) and the euro works everywhere, even if the country has its own currency but keep in my that you probably get a better exchange course if you pay in the local currency.

Slovenia is the country which remind me the most of western europe. The infrastructure are in good condition, the houses are in good condition, maybe since they left Yugoslavia with only 10-das or war. They had the best possibilities to to setup a good society but still they fail. According to Robin who we couchsurfed at in Ljubljana we learned that the suicide rate in Slovenia is skyrocketing and the alcoholism is a huge problem which you may see if you visit any gas station or other shop who sells alcohol during the evening/night. The problem might be that they are not western Europe, however they are not really “balkans” either and they doesn’t share the same culture or history like the rest of the Yugoslavian republics which gives them an identity crises and may explain their problems. Their mountains are thought really nice and i would recommend that you go here instead of the alps for your next ski/bike trip, I think it will be awesome!

Serbia is very, russian. Everything from the society, culture to how people behave. Serbia has a collective feeling that western world did them wrong during the war and like someone said, “Serbia never forgets, never forgives” and I think there is really something in this. Serbia hasn’t really forgiven the western world and while the rest of the republics has been closing in to EU Serbia has been running their own race which made them kind a isolated. It has started to change but its a big difference from the other countries. Belgrade is the biggest city in former Yugoslavia and a big city is always a big city, you can always find something for you here and I will return at some day.

Kosovo is the smallest country and not even a country to some (Serbia) which may be a problem if you don’t plan your trip. Its not a problem to go from Serbia to Kosovo however if you try to enter Serbia coming from Kosovo you might end up in problem. Serbia claims that Kosovo still belongs to them they may accuse you form illegal entering the country even if you just been to Kosovo. In this country however the country with the biggest optimism and they are building everywhere without any regulations. Well, the former mayor tried to restrict some but he got shot on the open street. I would say that Kosovo is the closest to the gold rush in the wild west you can come.

Macedonia didn’t showed us its best sides when we were there. Rain, gray weather and the hotel we booked had faked their address on so it looked like it closer to the city center than what it really was. Not an good start and after that Macedonia had to work in a uphill. That the city was gray and that they places statues all over the city doesn’t help much.  But there is a couple of low cost flight flying to Skopje so at least its easy to get here and you are welcome to prove me wrong.

Albania was probably the country I had the most prejudices about and not a single one was fulfilled during my trip. It may been because of the pope was visiting Tirana but the city was really clean and nice. English worked really good and I was expecting to see old Mercedes cars but I guess it was just my mind playing tricks on me. The road were really good, people were friendly and even if the corruption is supposed to be extreme I never saw anything. My guess is that in a couple of years Albania will be new the nr 1 charter resort, the beaches and sea are beautiful and once the standards gets just a little bit better, in the same class as Greece or Turkey.

In Montenegro we had the opposite experience than Macedonia. The weather couldn’t be better and the hotel was even better than we thought. Podgorica may not be the best or funniest city in the world but who cares then you can sit  on a outdoor seating and drink a cold beer and enjoy life. The country itself reminds pretty much of Serbia with the major difference that they do anything they can to get closer to EU. A big difference and it makes it way much easier to be a tourist here. If you like nature you big mountains and deep valleys you will love Montenegro!

Bosnia Herzegovina:
Bosnia as a country is a dead according to me, it has been forced to one nation and the country is suffering from it. What many people doesn’t know is that Bosnia Herzegovina is an federation, just like Yugoslavia was (and that worked out so well). It contains three large groups of people (Croatians, Bosniaks and Serbs) . The only thing that consistent is that you never, ever see the Bosnian flag, instead its the flag for Republik Srpska or the Croatian flag and its here you really realize that the wounds from the war i still wide open and infected. Each group has its own president and for any decisions all three must agree and how often does that happen do you think? Amira who we met in Sarajevo described it as “we are sitting on a ticking bomb”.

Croatia has two faces, we have the rich part along the coast which every year get plenty of tourism and gets even wealthier from that and we the poor inland where you still find traces from the war. The coastline is pretty much like any other area in western europe around the Mediterranean and you can find everything you want. If you travel inland it gets poorer and poorer and and you will find abandoned villages and other traces from the war. If you go to Croatia I really recommend that you spend a day or two traveling inland, the nature is beautiful and you should have seen both sides before you can say that you been to Croatia.