Category Archives: croatia

Sarajevo, Bosnia to Zagreb, Croatia by Train

I’d gotten a little bored with Sarajevo and wanted a change of scenery – leaving me with two main options by train, either Belgrade, Serbia or Zagreb, Croatia, in the end Zagreb won out due to having a train that left that night rather than at 6am the next two day (Which is way too early for a civilised human being to be up at a train station).So into another taxi (10 marks, or $8NZD from the hostel to the train station) into a typically sketchy looking eastern european train station at night. 58 convertible marks later and I had my ticket for my first ever international and overnight train journey from the capital of Bosnia to the capital of Croatia.

Trains aren’t exactly fast in Bosnia, the trip – which is about 400km by road (so you’d expect it to be 4-5 hours on normal roads) is supposed to take about 9 hours by train, but due to whatever reasons, actually takes around 11 hours, which if you pay attention to forum posts on lonely planet are supposed to contain 2 hours of dodgy robber types rolling onto the train around the border to rape, pillage and generally cause chaos.   That said, I’d waited until I’d heard back from Sam and Michelle to hear that their trip was a safe one, so I felt a little more confident! I met up with two Bosnian Serbs who were travelling home after a trip to venice who I decided to drink with and share a room on the train.  They told me all the tricks of train travel and how to prevent the fabled robberies – again things felt a little safer having a couple of well travelled, educated people sharing the room with me.. especially after we worked out how to “lock” the door with a shemagh and a womans scarf! That said the two of them were due to leave the train before we hit the border.

After saying goodbye to them at their stop I decided I needed some level of sleep so set about trying to make the seats comfortable enough to sleep in the communist era train with nothing more than a kathmandu travel pillow and an aquired air asia comfort kit.  Lets just say sleep was minimal at best. Upon reaching the border I had my passport checked by 3 or 4 different people, I was really in no state to tell, and my passport received its first stamp in 2 years of travelling on its virgin pages.  The coppers did seem a little confused that I’d got into the country without a stamp, and were even more confused when I told them I’d crossed the Croatian/Slovenian border 5 times, and the Croatian/Bosnian border without a border official even opening my passport. I guess my 90 days worth of visa free travel begins today.

Upon reentering Croatia the difference in economy was immediately apparent, you simply don’t see any damage from the war, obviously tourism and the coastline have made a big impact on the economy.  To put it simply – you wouldn’t realise Croatia was involved in a conflict 15 years ago, but you’d think for Bosnia it was more recent.

Still, I’ll be doing a lot more rail travel, even if it is more expensive than the bus/planes once in western europe, simply for the opportunity to see more of the country and its usually a free nights accommodation.  I’d still reccomend that women do the trip in pairs at least, and make sure you bring padlocks/cables for your gear.  I definately felt more comfortable having my macbook and valuables safely chained to the train using my pacsafe travel safe.

Next up, Zagreb, the city that does sweet fuck all on a Sunday!

Dubrovnik, Croatia

After a rather expensive taxi ride (which was pointless after I found out the place does free pickups from the ferry terminal!) I found the Dubrovnik Backpackers Club.  It advertises as a hostel, but I’d describe it as more like a hostel crossed with a Bed and Breakfast (which seems to be the vibe the further east you go).

The hosts are a lovely older couple, who as is the custom here give you a glass of Rakia (a liqueur which is a cross between petrol and lighter fluid, made out of the leftovers from winemaking).  I’ve learnt my lesson from last year, so take a couple of sips then dispose of the stuff.  Opting for beer instead. Our hostel was filled mainly with Canadians, a couple of yanks and some very .. ahem.. young girls from Finland.

The place has an excellent reputation (winner of the best hostel in Croatia in the past etc) and its easy to see why.  The hosts do a great job of making you at home (even if the woman did think I was a raging alcoholic due to my habit of drinking coke in the morning rather than coffee or tea, and her getting it confused with cans of the Croatian beer – Karlovacko, resulting in my lecture on the dangers of drinking beer for breakfast!).

Rooms were 4-6 people, I was bunked down with a guy from Germany, a french canadian girl from Quebec, and a Girl from Tauranga who works for DOC in Greymouth of places (I swear, I can’t go anywhere without running into someone who has some sort of mutual friends back home!).  I’m still wondering if there was some sort of military bunker out the rear of the place – hard to tell what it was, but judging by the razor wire etc.. hmmm

We checked out the local bars and restaurants.  First think was obvious, Dubrovnik is WAY more expensive than north in Istria.  I also don’t think the food is of the same standard.  It seems to be more generic dishes aimed at tourists and first timers.  The level of customer service is also lower.

That said we still enjoyed the food around the place, though the bars left a little to be desired (picture Globe Bar, except 99% british, with half the girls sporting bandages from their drunken holiday injuries being finger-banged by other travelers on the dance floor and a DJ who can’t mix.  Still good for a laugh!

Walking around the old town is absolutely amazing.  It is easy to see why this is a Unesco protected world heritage site.  The walled city (built in the 12th century is a sight to behold) and is like stepping back into some sort of fantasy novel or video game.  For someone who lives in NZ and the oldest buildings are 120-130 years old, its a real eye opener.

Around the outside of the walls on the seaward side are a few beach bars, where, regardless of the warnings of danger to safety or imminent death, you can cliff jump 20+ meters into the sea.  I’m hardly a strong swimmer at the best of times, so I resigned myself to photographer/beer drinking/staring at women duties while our fellow travelers took the plunge.  Pretty awesome, except for the price of beer (40kn for a 300ml bottle of beer – I got a pizza delivered to a 5 story apartment block and a beer for the same price back in Pula!)

The next day we had a few hours to spare before our bus trip to Bosnia.  We decided to venture up Mount Srd by foot, which seemed like an amazingly smart idea from our air conditioned accommodation on the other side of town. Though, in the heat, discretion was the better part of valor and I opted for the Cable car to the top, giving me an extra half an hour of sightseeing at the top, along with the amazing views of the walled city.

The top of the mountain is home to Fort Imperial, built by Napoleons army in 1812, and the site of a defence of the city during the 1992 conflict.  For 30kn you can view an exhibition on the Homeland war, which was quite a shock to see, considering we were viewing images of bombed out streets in the old city which we had been partying in for the last two nights. The other eye opener being the “Croatian Navy” which appeared to consist of little more than requisitioned fishing boats with a quick addition of armor and heavy machine guns to speed through the blockade of the town.  Definitely worth the visit and an hour or so to check out.

Rijeka to Dubrovnik by Boat

After 3 days at Anjas it was time to get on the Ferry and make my way down to the walled city of Dubrovnik in southern Croatia, approximately 900km away.  Buses were a big no, planes had a 12+ hour layover in Zagreb, while ferries are a 24 hour trip: Rijeka -> Split -> Korcula -> Stari Grad -> Sobra -> Dubrovnik and can include accommodation.  In my mind if you are in a coastal area – travelling by boat is the way to go.

As you can see from above, prices aren’t too expensive costing only 63 Euro ($98 NZD) for the full trip including cooked breakfast and a bed in a 4 person cabin.    Though you might want to avoid their sister ship if they don’t have their usual Captain.

Rooms are a little Spartan, but about as comfortable as you’d expect in any backpacker hostel, and considering the price you pay includes transport (with amazing views), accommodation and some food, it really is worth it.  (Factoring in the food and accomodation portions, the real cost of transport is somewhere around $50NZD for a trip down the entire coastline of the country!

In my case, I only had to share my room with one other person (it was a 4 person dorm room) and they were only there for the Rijeka -> Split component (i.e the first 12 hours) meaning for the other half of the trip I had the room to myself.

If you can’t afford the room, bring some warm clothes and a sleeping bag, grab a bench early and sleep out on the deck al fresco.  If I wasn’t carting around expensive DJ gear and paintball equipment, I’d probably be doing that myself!

The boat potters down the coast line, stopping at the larger towns on the islands as you go south.

Upon entering Dubrovnik harbour we passed a massive cruise ship – the Celebrity Silhouette.  Not bad looking if you can afford it (I think basic rooms start at the 2.5k USD range for 10 days around the middle east – tempting if I can find a cashed up travel buddy!).

Once we got to Dubrovnik – and paid the customary overpriced taxi for newcomers I checked in to my home for the next couple of days, the Dubrovnik Backpackers Club (which I’ll cover tomorrow) and waited for an old Uni mate, Nish to get home.  It was his 30th birthday.. Lets just say I’m quite hungover!

The great Bakar boat move…

As mentioned in a previous post, I’m staying in a town called Bakar, just out of Rijeka in Northern Croatia.  Bakar is now primarily a maritime village, and home to one of my ex workmates from Conferenz – Anja.

Anja’s family have had a history of sailing and owning boats in the town, but they have been living overseas for a few years and their last boat had fallen into disrepair and been left out to the elements next to the hotel in town. It ended up being a popular rubbish bin for the old dudes in town to place their empty cigarette packets and beer bottles.

We decided on a plan, we were going to tidy up the boat, and move it into the back garden, either to fix if we could, or turn into a massive planter (the boat is around 100 years old and was built by her great grandfather, so has quite a bit of family history/sentimental value) if it couldn’t be fixed.

This wasn’t going to be a particular easy  or straightforward job, after all – this is Croatia.  First we needed to find a way of opening the back gate in the wall – it turns out the only person who had a key was a friend of an uncle.   Then we needed to find a guy (whom neither of us had ever met) who had what we expected to be a trailer for moving the boat.We sourced the key, and then ventured into the local cafes and bars trying to find the guy by asking around.  Somehow we managed to locate not only the guy with the key, but also the guy whom we thought was bringing some sort of trailer to he boat.  After agreeing that they would bring help (in the form of a few ex sailor pensioners) we went off to purchase beer for afterwards and start cleaning up.

It turns out there was a LOT of rubbish in there. About 5 bags of broken bottles, bottle caps, hosepipes, cigarette boxes and other junk later and the boat was looking a little lighter. We were then joined by Anja’s brother and our slightly elderly workforce. The trailer turned out to be a 2foot long metal I beam with wheels attached and about 2m of rope. We started to get slightly worried!

Luckily these guys were ex sailors and have been dealing with boats all of their lives – they knew what they were doing.  In a mix of Croatian and broken English we were given orders on how to get the boat onto our little movement device and started to lug it by hand across town to the family house.  We got some slightly funny looks due to having a 20 something girl ordering around 4 guys pulling a rowboat down the streets, and eventually made it to the gate, and the slight problem of a curb, a boat, and no ramp.After a bit of muscle power, and a few crashes into the walls, we managed to get the boat into the compound.  Where.. of course we proceeded to get stuck… a few times.  The boat was finally home.

Half an hour later, we’d cleaned it up, realised that it wasn’t going to be seaworthy again, so it will become a planter with a massive history in the garden, and the registration/berthing will be passed onto another boat in the family.The old guys had earned their reward, so off we went to grab the beers – which were in the best natural fridge you can get.  Ice cold freshwater flowing into the sea.Which leaves me how I started the day.  Sitting on the deck, in the sun, with a beer in one hand, and an ebook in the other for a well deserved rest before we check out Rijeka’s nightlife tonight.

Chilling in Bakar

Got a text a few days ago from an old O’Rorke Hall of Residence (Auckland University) mate – Nish.  He’d gotten bored of Ibiza and its tourist excesses and was looking for something a bit nicer (and affordable).  I’d let him know how nice croatia was, long story short – he got on the next plane to Dubrovnik – on the other side of Croatia to where I was staying (about 900km away)

Regardless I’d agreed to meet him, and we are contemplating a sail croatia trip over the next week or two if the weather stays ok.  Looking at flights from Pula to Dubrovnik, everything seemed to have a 12-15 hour night time layover in Zagreb airport, which isn’t my idea of fun.  I was told to avoid the buses by my hosts, as I’d just be crammed into a bus for close to 15 hours, leaving the final, and slowest option – travelling by ferry, which sounded just right.

Onto the internet we went and it turned out I’d missed Monday’s ferry, and the next one wasn’t leaving until 6pm Friday (a 24 hour trip down the coast, arriving at 6pm the next day) and giving me 4 days to pass while I wait for the boat.

So I got onto the phone to one of my ex work colleagues from Conferenz back in NZ – Anja.  Anja is Croatian, but lived in NZ for 10 years before moving to the UK and back to her home town of Bakar, just out of Rijeka. According to good old wikipedia, this place has a population of 1500, making it nice, small and chilled out.  So, I jumped on the first bus out of Pula that my host Jasen could find me, costing just 103kn, with 8kn for my bags, and after 1.5 hours of driving along amazing coastline, full of old buildings, beaches etc I was there.

We got into town grabbed some dinner, made sure I ordered Karlovacko beer – to keep the Hellboys paintball crew happy, and Anja sorted us a massive Pizza.  Not bad for 100kn (around $20 NZD) .

Bakar is a port town, a short drive our of Rijeka.  It used to be a coal mining town, but the mines closed in 1995, and appears to be now mainly used as a school for Navy recruits.  Its nice and quiet, with one small hotel and no tourist apartments.  At a guess I’d say I’d be the only “commonwealth” tourist in the town, where everyone seems to know everyone.

I’m staying in the “Garden House” – the bottom floor in Anja’s family house, which is around 200 years old (built in 1812, and has been in their family since it was built) and appears to be one of the nicest properties in the entire town.  It is literally right on the waterfront (you can see ropes tying boats to the wharf in front of the gate) and has some amazing views from the windows. The garden is one of the greenest I’ve seen in my entire time in Croatia, and definitely feels like home, even having a freshwater stream from the mountains that goes into the Sea.

In the past the place was the residence of the Mayor (who I think was Anja’s Great Great grandfather) and then an artists studio (who has her great grandfather).

Over the next few days I’ll explore Rijeka, read and relax before getting on my 24 hour long boat ride from Rijeka -> Sobra -> Dubrovnik for only 228KN ($48NZD) for the cheapest “on deck” without a room ticket, if I decide to upgrade to a room on the boat it will be in the region of $80-130 NZD.

As a side note – this is what the place looks like in winter (Pic stolen from novilist.hr and was taken in February) after the Bora winds that hit Istria and the Mediterranean.