We were up at 6.30 prompt this morning, and I went out onto the balcony to look at our wonderful view for the last time. We’d had a really enjoyable stay here, but today we’d be moving on to explore some more exciting locations. 🙂
In the hotel restaurant we sat with Jane and Kath, and shortly afterwards we greeted Owen, Phoebe and Linda as they arrived for breakfast. Everybody asked everybody else how we’d spent the day yesterday and there was no shortage of conversation.
Afterwards we returned to room 116 and packed away the clothing and other items we’d taken out of our cases; we still hadn’t fully unpacked. What was the point of taking everything out and hanging it up, just to put it all back again after two days? So it didn’t take us long to finish our packing, check around the room to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything, and go up to reception where we paid our bar bill, handed in our room keys and checked out.
At eight o’clock the familiar black mini-bus pulled up outside as our old friend Miró emerged from the driver’s side and helped us all stash our cases in the capacious boot. Then we took our seats and set off once again along the gorgeous coastline, the mini-bus wending its way around the winding streets, sometimes climbing, sometimes descending, Miró pointing out things of interest as usual.
After about 45 minutes we reached the walled settlement of Ston, and Miró joked that we could photograph the wall and pretend to all our friends that we’d actually been to China instead of Croatia! Glancing upwards, we saw that the wall did indeed bear a strong resemblance to its more-famous Asian counterpart.
We spent about half an hour looking around Ston, including its church which, like the one in Dubrovnik, was named after the patron saint, St. Blaise. Once again, we took photographs against a blue, blue sky as the weather promised to be a scorcher once again.
Once we were back in the mini-bus, we continued our journey towards the border of Bosnia & Herzegovina, where we would be spending the day before continuing to our final destination of Split. For Trevor and me, visiting Bosnia would allow us to tick off our 91st country visited. 🙂
After about an hour of taking the scenic route along the beautiful coastline, we saw the border control up ahead and joined a short queue of vehicles. As we approached, Miró asked us all to hand our passports over to be inspected and stamped for entry into Bosnia & Herzegovina. Trevor reached into his rucksack and rummaged around a little, his face slowly registering sick dismay…. we’d left them at the hotel !!!!!
Oh…my… GOD!! I couldn’t believe it. We’d left our passports behind! We apologised profusely to Miró and our five fellow passengers, but there was absolutely nothing we could do but return to the Villa Paradiso to retrieve them. When you check into a hotel in Croatia (and indeed, in some other countries) they hold on to your passports until you leave again, and it had completely slipped our mind to ask for them back this morning. We felt really awful for inconveniencing our fellow travellers like this, but everyone was very good about it.
After getting out of the minibus and explaining to the border control that we wouldn’t be crossing after all (!!), Miró turned the vehicle around and stoically set off, back to the hotel. It would take us about an hour to get there.
After I’d tried unsuccessfully several times to call the Villa Paradiso and explain to them that we’d left our passports and were on our way back for them, we pulled up outside around 10.30am. Everyone got out of the mini-bus as they’d decided they’d take the opportunity to use the toilets while they could, including Miró. There was no-one on reception at all, which explained why no-one had been answering the phone; a passing hotel guest said that the reception wasn’t manned until 11.00am. Oh dear! 🙁
Just then, we spotted what looked like a couple of red-covered British passports on a shelf at the back of reception. Trevor didn’t hesitate in going behind the desk himself to take a look at the passports, and it was with a massive sense of relief that they were ours! Phew! 🙂
We all piled into the mini-bus again, and Miró said he knew another shorter, but less scenic, route to the B&H border. So, with a sense of déjà vu, we left the Villa Paradiso and sat, somewhat sheepishly, in the vehicle as we set off once again. We covered a lot of arid, desert-like ground with nothing much to see except mountains, exhausted land and a few cacti and scrubby-looking bushes and trees.
After around 40 minutes we saw the border control in the distance again, and this time we passed our passports to Miró and crossed through into Bosnia & Herzegovina without further incident. 🙂
Once over the border, the remote landscape changed as we passed through small hamlets, villages and then towns. Around 12.45pm, Miró slowed the mini-bus and pulled up outside a distinct landmark; he remarked that if we thought we were lost, all we had to do was look for this spire, which could be seen from all over the town, and head towards it in order to find the pick-up point. The spire in question was the Mostar Peace Bell Tower, which is the tallest building in the city and was built next to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, which was completely destroyed during the Bosnian War. A new church was built on the same site in 2000, and you can take a lift to the top of thre 80 metre bell tower for a magnificent view over the city.
It was outside this tower that we met our guide, whose name unfortunately escapes me. He told us that he was actually a qualified lawyer, but in Herzegovina the salary would only amount to 850 euros a month; so he could make more money working as a tour guide for 4-5 months than he could working as a lawyer in a year.
We followed the guide along the streets, taking in the colours, sights and sounds of the city of Mostar. It was a very hot afternoon, and the guide explained that, due to Mostar’s location, which was near the bottom of a bowl-shaped valley, it saw regularly temperatures of over 40ºC in the summer, but was bitterly cold in the winter, with an average daily temperature of about 4ºC in January, and snow is very common.
As we headed towards the first of two significant bridges, we walked through the cobbled streets of the bazaar, my head swivelling from right to left as we passed colourful shops selling locally crafted goods, such as leather, tilework, mosaic, pottery, copperware, hand-made beaded jewellery and clothing. There seemed to be a lot of white broderie anglaise tops and dresses; I stopped to have a look at one but then had to hurry to catch up with the rest of the group who had moved on.
The first, and smaller, of the two bridges was the Kriva Cuprija (Crooked Bridge), which crosses one of the creeks of the Neretva River which runs through the town. It is a stone one-arch bridge which closely resembles the larger and more famous Stari Most (which we would come to later). The arch is a perfect semi-circle 8.56 metres wide by 4.15 metres high. The exact date that it was built is unknown.
As we walked along, I found the town and its surroundings to be most charming. The sky was a pure unsullied blue and the river a lovely turquoise colour. Trees and bushes lined the river bank and we could see spires and minarets which reminded us of Mostar’s Islamic culture, the city being under Ottoman rule during the 15th century and beyond.
A few minutes later, we reached another bridge, the Stari Most. This is the most famous bridge in Herzegovina and is a symbol of Mostar, being a fine example of Islamic architecture. The bridge was built in the same place as an exact replica of the old (original) bridge which had been built in the 16th century and which was completely destroyed on 9th November 1993, during the Bosnian War.
The new bridge was then constructed between 7th June 2001 and 23rd July 2004 at an estimated cost of over 15 million US dollars.
Stari Most now hosts a traditional annual competition in diving organised every year in mid summer (end of July). It is traditional for the young men of the town to leap from the bridge into the Neretva River. As the Neretva is very cold, this is a risky feat and requires skill and training. As we approached the bridge, we saw a couple of blokes in swimming trunks standing on the bridge; one of them, holding out a hat, was approaching the people on the bridge (including our group) and asking for donations to watch his colleague jump off the bridge. We thought this sounded intriguing, and our guide said it was part of the culture of the city, so we each put two euros into the hat, and the guy thanked us and said the jump would take place in a couple of minutes. 🙂
I went around the side so I could get a good vantage point to video the jump. With a five… four… three… two… one countdown, the guy leapt into the water with a splash, to cheers and a round of applause from all the onlookers. Well, that was certainly something different! 🙂
Afterwards, we continued over the bridge and walked along to the end of the shops, where our guide thanked us for our attention and said our time was now our own. We had an hour before we had to be back at the bell tower and the car park, so we decided to go and get something to eat and drink, as it was now two o’clock and we hadn’t had any lunch yet.
Linda came with us, and the three of us walked back across the bridge and over the cobbled ground. We thought it would make sense to head in the general direction of the bell tower, so we didn’t have to rush to get back afterwards. On the way, we looked for any cafés or bars that took our fancy, eventually settling for one that had a sandwich and wrap menu, and also served cold beer. 🙂
We each ordered a cheese, ham and salad wrap, Trevor and I sharing one between us along with a large beer each. The beer went down very well indeed, and we decided to have another one between us. As we left the café, we saw Kath and Jane sitting outside enjoying their drinks too. 🙂
We then took a leisurely walk back towards the bell tower and the car park; Miró was already there and we stood around waiting for Owen and Pheobe and Kath and Jane, who all arrived shortly afterwards. Then we all took our seats in the cool interior of the mini-bus and set off for our next destination, the amazing Kravica Waterfalls and lake.
After about 45 minutes of driving along the winding roads, our mini-bus slowed to a halt at a parking area above the waterfalls, which we could see in the distance through the trees. He said we had an hour here, and we could either walk down (and back up!) around 300 steps, or take the mini-train down. In this heat there was no way we were going to walk! We went to the office and purchased our tickets; we didn’t have any of the local currency which is the Bosnian Mark, but as both Croatian kunas and Euros are widely accepted in Bosnia we didn’t have a problem. The train arrived shortly afterwards, disgorged all its passengers, then we took our seats and the driver came round and said we had to pay to go down, and pay to come back up again!! It was only a euro or so each but still, the guy at the ticket office had given the impression that the train fare was included in the price.
Off we went, as the little train descended down the zigzagging road, the roar of the waterfalls becoming louder the closer we got. When we arrived, it was certainly worth the ticket cost – it was wonderful!
There was a lot more than just waterfalls here though; there was also a fantastic boating lake with areas roped off for swimming, a campsite, rope swing, café and picnic area. We really wished we could have spent some time here swimming; it looked so inviting. I took a video clip; still photos never quite portray the splendour of a waterfall – you don’t get the sound and the spray and the ceaseless movement.
We could have stayed here a lot longer than an hour, but it was soon time to catch the little train for the return journey. Trevor and I were the first back, and had about 15 minutes to wait for the others; they must have got a later train. Eventually we were all in our seats and on our way to our final destination for the day: Split. As we would be crossing the border back into Croatia, Trevor was met with a chorus of “Have you got the passports?!” which he took with resigned good humour. 🙂
Our driver advised we should arrive at our hotel before 8.00pm, so it was going to take the best part of four hours. We hoped we would get a comfort stop on the way, but in any case it was pretty comfortable in the mini-bus and most people dozed, read or looked out of the window at the rugged landscape.
It was around 7.30pm when we reached the outskirts of Split, which is Croatia’s second city after its capital Zagreb. Miró drove around the pleasantly-thronging streets for a while before winding down his window and speaking with a motorcyclist; seemingly he was having trouble finding our hotel and the motorcyclist offered to show him the way. He apologised to us that it was a while since he’d been here, in Split, and couldn’t remember the way to the Hotel President, which would be our home for the next three nights. 🙂
After a couple of minutes, we arrived at our city-centre hotel and Miró parked up opposite. We retrieved our suitcases and other bags, and walked over the zebra crossing and into the foyer of the hotel. Our first impression was that it was an old-fashioned, but elegant, building, with lots of wood panelling, brown furniture, high ceilings and chandeliers. The wide staircase was the type where the carpet runs down the centre and doesn’t go the full width of the steps, and was kept in place with stair rods. 🙂
We were given the key to room 511, and despite the number we only had to ascend one floor. Our room was large, with two three-quarter size beds, a dressing table, wardrobe, table and small chair and bedside cabinets. The old-fashioned-but-elegant theme continued, and the beds contained heavy damask bedspreads which matched the curtains framing the floor-to-ceiling French doors leading out to a spacious, shared terrace. Each room that shared the terrace had its own table and two chairs outside.
The bathroom contained a large Jacuzzi bath with a power shower, a lavatory, a bidet and two sinks. It all looked lovely and comfortable and we knew we’d enjoy our stay here.
Once we’d had a wash and brush up, we decided to go out and get something to eat. Walking back down to the foyer, we bumped into Linda who’d been exploring the hotel. We invited her to join us in our quest for food and drink and she agreed, and we looked at Google Maps to see what restaurants were nearby. There was a place, intriguingly called “Sexy Cow” that was only just around the corner, so we decided to go there and see what it was like. 🙂
Sexy Cow turned out to be a cheerful-looking burger bar where the burgers were made with wraps instead of burger buns. The three of us took our seats at a table with high stools in front of the premises, and the smiling waitress brought us a menu each. In the meantime, we each ordered a – you’ve guessed it – a welcome, freezing cold beer. 🙂
Perusing the menu (see above), Trevor and I ordered a ‘Dirty Cow’ each, while Linda just wanted a bowl of chips. Our food didn’t take long to come and it was certainly novel, having burger ingredients contained within a large tortilla wrap, but simply delicious, all the more as we were pretty hungry by now. We washed it all down with another beer and sat there in the early evening dusk, enjoying the ambience of the place.
After our meal Linda decided to return to the hotel, but Trevor and I set off to look around our immediate vicinity. We had been to Split once before, on the Queen Victoria in October 2018, and we loved the many historic buildings, smooth stone streets and the wide harbour – it’s a great city and we were so pleased to be having a longer stay; we looked forward to exploring tomorrow.
Walking along, passed the shops, restaurants and bars, we marvelled that, even at 10 o’clock at night, there were long queues outside the ice-cream shops. Lots of people were around and there was a colourful vivacity about the place. We enjoyed just strolling around soaking up the atmosphere. 🙂
Eventually we were attracted by the beat of music coming out of a traditional-looking Irish pub. Looking inside, we saw that there was a live band playing, and the place was jammed with customers. It had a great atmosphere and everyone seemed friendly, so we went inside. There were no free tables downstairs, but there was a mezzanine floor, and I could see one or two spare seats through the railings that surrounded it. Trevor went to the bar as I bagged a couple of seats upstairs.
We each ordered a Guinness and sat at a table adjacent to a pleasant Irish girl who chatted amiably with us before she was joined by her friend. We really liked it in the pub and, after my Guinness I decided to have a Jameson’s with ice, ginger and a slice of lime.
We remained in the pub until about 11.00pm, then took a slow stroll back to the Hotel President and room 511. We were pleasantly tired now, but we didn’t have to meet our tour guide until 10.30am tomorrow so we could have a nice lie-in. We slept very well, after an eventful day. 🙂