Kotor/Mostar

08/11/2019


Welcome back to the second installment of this mini trip to a few of the Balkan states. To catch up with the first part of the story, check out part 1 here - 6 in the City - Dubrovnik 


All caught up? Let's dive straight into day 4...

Kotor

It was an hour before my alarm sounded that the cogs in my head were engaged and I was brought back into consciousness. Why? I don't know. Perhaps some cruel trick in retaliation for the self-imposed sleep deprivation over the last few nights. This wasn't such a bad thing though, as today the weather forecast was good, and we were crossing the border into further uncharted territory.

By 0615 we were on our way to Montenegro, specifically a small town called Kotor which sits at the end of a fairly substantial body of water fed by the Adriatic sea and surrounded by mountains. I had taken the liberty of downloading the audiobook of 'A Short History of Nearly Everything' for the journey, and so with the voice of the book's author Bill Bryson accompanying us on our quest, we hit the road.

The journey is approximately 2 hours from Dubrovnik and is pretty much a single road from start to finish. Our departure was timed so that some natural light would be present on the foreign roads to guide our drive, but early enough that we would hopefully arrive with some of the early morning light still lingering before the day got fully underway.

Driving through sunrise was an amazing, and yet painfully disappointing experience. Our route took us parallel to a river that was seductively draped in a thick mist that was picking up the hues of the rising sun. This was coupled with the dramatic mountainous backdrop, which would have made an incredible photo opportunity, but I didn't know where I could safely stop to take advantage of such a glorious sight on the main road out of Croatia, nor did I have time if I were to make it to our destination on time.

Fighting the urge to break away from my carefully planned itinerary, we plowed on, enjoying the fleeting moment for what it was. As a photographer, I am trying to not let these kinds of opportune moments pass me by, but with the risk of missing out on the shots I had already planned being too great, I took my chance and silently prayed that the decision to drive through such a magical scene was the right one. 

Arriving at the border gates, it was reassuring to see that it was very quiet. I don't recall ever having driven across international borders before, and had no idea what to expect. We had our passports, and green card and so hoped everything was above board; the immigration officials seemed to agree and allowed us to pass with relative ease. Then just like that, we were in Montenegro.

At first, nothing really changed. Everything looked familiar and unchanged from the country in the rearview mirror, but this was not to last. We continued into the new country, and nothing particularly exciting presented itself until we hit the water's edge. The terrain to our left of the road started to rapidly incline above us and became more craggy and dramatic. Had we made it to the Bay of Kotor?

I kept a keen eye out for the first major landmark which would provide assurance that we had indeed arrived at our location, this was the Island of St George and Our Lady of the rocks, two tiny islands in the Bay of Kotor which are home to impractically located churches. Instead, the sat nav directed us to a ferry port, which completely threw me at first.

My research had included the option of using a ferry crossing as a short cut to Kotor, but this route took us along the south side of the bay which wasn't the path I was looking for. Being a little disorientated I was having to think on my feet, and quickly, as the morning sunlight was cooling rapidly.  Fortunately, we didn't have the currency to purchase tickets for the ferry, and with no other option but to take a road left of the ferry port, I drove on, hoping that we would pick up the route I had in my mind. 

And that we did. As we turned the next bend, there before us was Our Lady of the Rocks, sitting majestically out in the midst of the bay. We had made it to the farthest end of the basin.

The drive around the bay via the northern road to Kotor should only take around 20 minutes or so, but I wanted to make a couple of stops along the way. As we began the final stretch around the water, the terrain went from craggy to mountainous and was a sight like no other I have yet to experience. Sure, this has nothing on the majesty of say Ha Long Bay, but there was something about the stillness and calm of the area that was so breathtakingly beautiful. The experienced was only amplified by the gentle mist lingering over the water towards the far end of the bay.


After an initial stop to shoot the islands Our Lady of the Rocks and St George, the next interruption would be the small town of Perast. Set down from the main coastal road, Perast is a strip of land occupying a small section of the Northern Bank. It seemed to be largely formed of hotels with some local residences dotted in between, overlooking some truly stunning scenery. With it still being early morning (for normal people at least) it was fairly quiet, with just a few people milling about. This seemed like a good opportunity for a spot of breakfast which was taken at the water's edge in one of the hotel restaurants.


It was an absolute pleasure shooting the boats on the water and capturing the early morning sun casting shadows over the dramatic landscape surrounding the water. A few local fishermen were out with their lines in the still water. All was still, quiet and tranquil.


I had never heard of Kotor before Claire proposed it for this trip, and certainly never heard of Perast, but this was a defining moment in this little adventure. The landscape and tranquility were truly captivating, and to think there are people staying there that wake up to that view every morning. I didn't know exactly what to expect from this trip, but I certainly didn't expect to be so captivated. 


Dragging myself away from moments of intense self-reflection, we moved onward along the top of the bay, stopping at two more of the towns en-route to Kotor, which were uniquely interesting, but not quite as noteworthy. The drive itself was magnificent, and at every corner, the landscape evolved into something different. I frequently had to stop to capture the light casting intense shadows across the rocks and bringing out the most dazzling of turquoise in the waters beside us. 


Something that did stand out here, as it had back in Dubrovnik, was the number of grand buildings that stood derelict and abandoned. So much money had once been spent here, and now these grand architectural installations are left behind to be reclaimed by the surrounding nature. Grand mansions fit for a king were left exposed to the elements, with trees and plant life slowly devouring these once magnificent residences. Unfortunately, none of these images made the cut, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

We continued on our journey, making little stops at the water's edge along the way. Ornate churches, scenery of outrageous beauty, little boats floating on sparkling clear waters, this has got to be one of the best drives I have ever taken. 

And then before we knew it we had arrived at our destination.

Kotor is a popular spot for cruises, and this was plain to see by the types of shops and restaurants that can be found there, but mainly because there was a monster moored up in front of us that had just disembarked. Much like Dubrovnik, Kotor is a fortified city with a town built within the confines of the imposing city walls. The big difference here is that the city walls surrounding it were not only on a horizontal, but vertical plain as they traversed the mountain behind, but I'll come onto more about that later.

The old town was very much tailored to cruise ships, and only a small element of local life was visible. There was shop after shop of the usual guff laid on for these visitors, and countless restaurants serving largely similar cuisine to the unadventurous pallet.

After having spent so much time shooting the old town of Dubrovnik, and feeling pretty uninspired due to the bounty of tourist tat, my attention was drawn toward the climb up the city walls for the view over the bay and back to the tranquility beyond the bustle of visitors. But there was a small problem, this climb is for the able-bodied only. That is to say, if you want to go up, it's on foot or nothing.


This wasn't a problem for me, but let's just say that Claire wasn't in the mood for a steep climb under an unrelenting sun, and hadn't come best dressed for this sort of activity. After some careful negotiation, we agreed to make it up to the first landmark, a church around a third of the way up. This wasn't going to give me the shot I was looking for but was better than nothing at all.


To be honest, the climb that far wasn't too bad at all. It looks steep, but the narrow steps were actually fairly easy to climb with only a moderate incline. Arriving at our adjusted summit, a few shots were taken and it was back down again within 45 mins or so. Not the best value I have had out of €16 (€8 per ticket), but the view is definitely worth the effort exerted in the ascent. A praying mantis decided it wanted a fight on the way down, which made for a comical interlude.


The deal was that Claire would choose our spot for lunch in exchange for taking the (pre-planned) walk up the walls. Through the mass of carbon-copied menus, she managed to find a cracking place that served authentic cuisine which was actually pretty good value. With an offering of a local fish and meat dish inclusive of a glass of wine for something like £10.00 a head, we were both satisfied with the choice. 

After lunch, the day was wearing on, and we were beginning to feel as if Kotor hadn't much more to offer us. 

We walked off our lunch around the edge of the bay before departing back in the direction of Dubrovnik. After being so spoilt in the morning with the serenity of Perast, I've got to say I was pretty underwhelmed by the town of Kotor. Maybe if we hadn't already spent so much time in a similar location it would have been a different experience, and if we had managed to make it to the fortress at the top of the mountain, but for what we did see I just couldn't get all that excited. 

Taking the same route back, I realized that there was a shot I had wanted to capture in Perast that morning but had completely forgotten about. This was at the very far end of the town looking back with the curve of the bay wrapping around, punctuated at the end by the spire of a church. I was pretty keen to get back to Dubrovnik to and capture the sunset from on top of the mountain, so hurriedly made my way through a now busy little town to take the shot. 

Making this stop spoiled the illusion of tranquility earlier in the day, as it was now busy with people and traffic, nothing like the scenes in Kotor, but still juxtaposed to our earlier experience. The view was still magical, and now with the later afternoon light, so worth the interruption. Even if it meant a precarious drive through the narrow road busily dotted with people, busses and cars!

The border was now a lot busier than we had experienced that morning so we missed sunset by about 20mins. Not wanting to overdo it, we settled in for the night in preparation for our next adventure, for the following day, we were entering to Bosnia. 

Mostar

Waking gently to a new day, I felt rested and ready for more exploration. A quick check of the time revealed it was only 630, not the lay in I was expecting, but a lay-in nonetheless. Incredibly, Claire was also up, and so a plan was hatched to seize the day and get back on the road, destination: Mostar in Bosnia.

Mostar is around a 2.5-hour drive from Dubrovnik, and from what we had learned of the town, we didn't think much time would be required there. I had hoped to finally get back onto the mountain to shoot sunset here in Dubrovnik, so I made a tight schedule to get there as quickly as possible, and back on the road to return for around 1730.

And with that, we were off. With no supplies at our apartment, we planned to pick up something to eat along the way; this turned out to be a huge mistake. For the length of the journey, the closest thing we came to any kind of food was the odd roadside stall serving dubious fume covered fruits. Not the most visually appetizing of local cuisine, so we soldiered on in hope of something more agreeable. 

I am not the most experienced foreign driver and was still really settling into it by this point. This journey proved to be my toughest assignment and would test my driving abilities, and nerves to their limit.

Having quickly passed through the border, the roads were pretty good and I was expecting the journey to be similar to that the previous day. That was, at least, until the sat-nav declared a left turn, which gave me serious pause. We sat for a while looking at a narrow dirt track leading off the main road, seemingly to nowhere. With no other real option, I bit the bullet and followed faithfully, for what turned out to be a crazy ride. 

Around a 3rd of the journey consisted of a precarious, unloved, single-track road,  spattered with grazing cattle. Oh, and in many locations a sheer 6-9' drop on either side, leaving me with a meer couple of inches of loose aggregate separating the car's tires from the levels below. This was not going to be the quickest of passings, and with the weighty SUV slipping from side to side on the loose surfaces my backside was busy curating its own unique symphony. 


But aside from the extreme Top Gear / Grand Tour style driving conditions, there was the scenery. As with the day before, a reasonably heavy mist had settled between the mountains that surrounded the route, and after having dropped down a near sheer drop onto a side road off of the elevated section, I found that I just had to stop this time and check it out.

A heavy dew had fallen, denying hundreds, if not thousands of spiders their anonymity. The wild growth bordering the road was littered with spiderwebs glistening in the morning light where the dew had settled. This coupled with the mountains and the mist truly was a stunning sight to behold and served as a welcomed distraction from an otherwise frightening drive.

Plowing on, picking up with Bill Bryson from the day before, the journey concluded with no major incident. The border hadn't been an issue and with the exception of some incredibly reckless natives on the road, we made it in one piece. I don't think I could say the same for my nerves though.


So, Bosnia. I am ashamed to say that I know of it as having been through some rough times, but to be honest my knowledge stops there rather abruptly. Growing up, I just about remember hearing about the conflict through the news, but still, even now I am very unclear on the details. Considering this is the site of the most recent European conflict, I am disappointed in myself for not knowing more about what happened here.

Mostar essentially revolves around a single main attraction, The Old Bridge, which itself is surrounded by an old town. The bridge itself isn't old at all, as it was destroyed during the Balkans conflict, but still is an attractive structure over striking blue waters.

The bridge is commonly used by divers who test themselves by leaping forth to the waters far beneath the bridge. We thought we may be treated to this spectacle by some speedo clad locals, but this turned into nothing more than a tease. Apparently, the crowd wasn't sufficient enough for them to perform.


Beyond the bridge, is a thriving city, but one that is deeply scarred, and not afraid to show it. On almost every street we followed there were reminders of the conflict that took place here not all that long ago. Bombed out ruins litter the streets, their empty shells a legacy from the pain and despair that had occurred. Elsewhere, some buildings appeared to be normal and untouched by the fighting, but turn a corner and the façade is quite literally peppered with ballistic damage.

One structure that had piqued my interest was an old car park that had been used as a sniper tower during the conflict. Now the guns are silent, the building has been taken over by street artists not unlike Tuffelsburg in Berlin; this is something I am always keen to document. To my disappointment, the entrances were padlocked shut, so I had to make do with shooting the exterior.


Recovering fairly quickly from the disappointment of the unexpected closure of the 'Sniper Tower', we had a wander around the surrounding area taking in more of the war-ravaged architecture. The sheer amount of shelled buildings, frag, and ballistics damage serve as stark reminders of the conflict and really do bring home the suffering that was experienced here. You can really imagine the sounds of popping shells and distant explosions, which are in total contrast with the view of the Bosnian people going about their lives. 


At one point, I was stood with my camera pressed to my face carefully composing an image when I felt a presence over my shoulder. Assuming it was Claire, I turned a little startled when I realized it was a local gentleman who, having seen my interest in the war damage, fell straight into a narrative of his time during the conflict. He described the road I was standing on as essentially being the front line and the nature of the fighting. How is it, that there are people here that have literally lived these experiences and we do not know all that much about it?

We directed our wanderings back in the direction of the cities the main attraction. Heading down to the river's edge to shoot the old bridge, we ducked in and out of the streets, admiring the contrasts between the new architecture against the old,  and both the former against the war-torn.

I was really keen to nail the shot of the bridge from the river, and so took my time to set up my camera on my bag down by the rocks overhanging the water to create a stack of images that could be blended in post. I was seeking to capture enough frames that I could reduce, or eliminate the significant amount of pedestrian traffic passing across the bridge. The flamboyant, yet performance shy diver happily sat at the peak of the bridge throughout my shooting, so I decided to keep him there.

The intense sunlight made it really difficult to see my cameras LCD to check my composition, and once I was committed to the shot, I didn't want to readjust too much. I wish I had taken a proper look now and adjusted my cameras setting to take in the complete reflection of the bridge, but with hunger banging on the door, and the riverside getting very busy with visitors I finished the shot and left in search of lunch. 

This was the third country in this mini-break and the third currency. We had hoped to stick to card for the majority to save on having a surplus of redundant money on our return. Unfortunately, most of the restaurants here were cash only, so we worked out what we could get away with and pulled out 50 BAM.

We were recommended a local kebab for lunch, which was served with bread, raw onion and a piece of soft cheese that reassembled a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Sat on a terrace in the sunshine, overlooking the river eating what turned out to be a stunning meal, life couldn't get much better.

By this point, time was rattling on, so we head off in the direction of the furthest bridge for a view back to the old one. As it turns out, the views beyond the second bridge were just as agreeable.

By my careful logistics (and a little luck) we ended up right back at the car, and not before long we were back on the road navigating tight and winding back streets. The return journey was far less stressful than the drive out now I knew what to expect,  and didn't seem quite as long. This was before we encountered a Bosnian traffic jam. Whilst attempting to navigate the single track section of the route, we encountered not one, but three small herds of grazing cattle that were not all that fussed about letting us pass! 

That morning, the border going the opposite way had been solid with traffic, which did give me some cause for concern. The last thing we wanted was to be sat at the checkpoints for an age, especially as this was my last possible chance to capture the sunset over Dubrovnik. My concerns turned out to be totally unnecessary, and we sailed through the border without incident.

By half-past 5 we found ourselves back high above Dubrovnik at the top of mount Urd looking down at the old town, the sun lowering in the sky beyond. This couldn't have worked out any better and delightfully punctuated the end of the day, and the trip for us both.

All was not quite over yet though. After dropping the car off back at the apartment, we swiftly headed back into the old town for some last-minute shooting and a spot of dinner. I wanted to tackle the grand Jesuit stairs once again, as my last composition just didn't sit right with me, and with these stairs having some significance in popular culture I figured I should do them some justice.

We had a fancy for fish for our last dinner in Dubrovnik, and as luck would have it the restaurant quite literally at the foot of these stairs offered a mixed fish and seafood platter which was amazing, and incredible value! 

Dinner did go on for a little longer than anticipated, so when we had finished our drinks, it was the sensible thing to head in the direction of home. It was getting late, the latest we had been out all week in fact, so I was not in full shooting mode. I couldn't resist however cracking off a couple of shots to round the week off and diversify my collection for the trip. 

And that was that. A highly successful trip all done and dusted. We packed up our bags early the next morning and headed for the airport. 

The car was dropped off back at the airport to Sixt, who, good to their word charged me an additional £240.00 on top of the £90.00 I had paid in advance. There was an expectation of an additional £40.00, but they had lumped on extras such as a £60 fee for traveling outside of Croatia, a fee that has no cost to Sixt as the green card is already valid and so is pure profit. Plus they mislead me on their fuel policy, where I essentially ended up paying them for half a tank of fuel which was unused. Oh, and they double charged me for insurance cover. If you take anything away from this post, it's to avoid this bottom-feeding crooked enterprise at al costs. I have since read many stories of them ripping off other poor unsuspecting souls in equal measure. 

Despite the tainted bookends created by Sixt, everything else in between on this trip was pretty amazing. The scenery was stunning, the food was really good, and the weather, despite this being early October, was incredible. Our time in each location was pretty much bang on, and we didn't want for more in either of the three locations, with the exception of Perast perhaps, but this would be limited purely to the serene mornings. When you're planning your next trip, be sure to put the Balkans on your shortlist, you will not regret it. 

To check out more images from this trip, go ahead and click the buttons opposite to open up their respective galleries. If you still haven't caught up with the first part of the trip, there's another shortcut there for you as well.    


Thanks for checking out my blog! Let me know if you enjoyed it by leaving a comment in the comments below, and I'd love to hear your stories from these beautiful destinations. To keep up to date with my blog, head over to my Facebook page and hit the like button to receive regular updates. 


Until next time, happy travels!


6


  • No Comments
Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In