Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

16 - 17 September 2017

We started our journey early today taking the 7.30am bus from Sarajevo to Bihac (KM 20 per person, KM 2 per luggage). From Bihac, we would be taking a bus or taxi to Plitvice Lakes National Park, which is a Unesco World Heritage site. At this point, we didn't know if there is any connecting buses going to the national park.

We left our apartment at 6.30am, planning to take the tram from Katedrala to the bus station. We waited until it was already 6.50am, there was still no tram no. 1, only tram no. 3 was passing by. So we decided to just walk, which would take us 30 minutes. It was a really good morning exercise! On hindsight, actually we could take the tram no. 3, then alight at Universitet A, then walk 10 minutes to the bus station. We did ask the newspaper kiosk which sells the tram ticket, the vendor did say we could take it, but wasn't sure where we should alight. We reached the bus station around 7.20am, and the bus arrived shortly after.

The journey from Sarajevo to Bihac is equally scenic as well, passing by rivers, valleys, and waterfalls. We agreed that we shall visit this country again to see the other cities such as Travnik, Jajce and Bihac itself, which we stopped by briefly for passengers to get on and off. Along the way we could see fortresses and camping sites by the river. The journey from Sarajevo to Bihac took about 6 hours.

Bosne river along the way


 at Jajce

Veliko Plivsko lake at Jajce

We arrived at Bihac bus station around 1.35pm. Then we went to the ticketing to ask if there is any buses going to Plitvice Lakes. Luckily for us, the there was indeed! And the next bus was scheduled at 2pm which was really good timing! We bought the ticket for KM4 per person. The journey from Bihac to Plitvice Lakes took about just 1 hour with border crossing between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia at Licko Petrovo Selo. We alighted at Entrance 1 of the Plitvice Lakes National Park as our guesthouse Marijan (EUR 50 per night, Booking.com) is located at Rastovaca which is near to Entrance 1. The bus just stopped by the roadside, then we walked to our guesthouse, about 10 minutes away. Rastovaca is a really nice cute little village with guesthouses catering to the hikers to Plitvice Lakes.

our Guesthouse Marijan

our simple room
our simple room

another cute house at Rastovaca

another house in Rastovaca

There was no shops around, so we had our late lunch / early dinner at the Licka Kuca National restaurant, near the Entrance no. 1. We had the grilled trout and vegetable rice which tasted really good.

inside Licka Kuca national restaurant

grilled trout

vegetable rice

After our meal, we went to check out the souvenir shop at Entrance no. 1 Since it was already 6pm, we would only be trekking at Plitvice tomorrow. The park opens at 7am so we planned for an early start tomorrow.

Entrance 1 ticket counter

souvenir shop at Entrance 1

traditional dance show going on at the entrance

Early rise for us today! It was raining this morning, and was still raining at 7am. Since we wanted the whole park to ourselves, rain or shine, we had to start early, before the busloads of tourists come flocking. We rang the bell of our hosts downstairs to deposit our backpacks, which we would collect back around 2pm later. We would be taking the 2.45pm bus to Zagreb today. We bought the tickets for HRK 110 per person, which includes the boat and bus ride in the park. We were perhaps the first visitor at Entrance 1 for today as it was raining quite heavily. We had our raincoats on. This was the first view that welcomed us as we entered. Amazing!

waterfalls of Plitvice

Some facts on Plitvice lakes taken from Wikipedia: The Plitvice Lakes / waterfalls are a result of century-old processes and the sedimentation of chalk, which is abundantly available in the waters of this karst area. The water masses reaching the lakes at the upper or lower part of the system are continuously changing the lakes and the surrounding landscape. They finally exit the lakes as river Korana. New waterfalls are being formed while others run dry. Currently, there are 16 lakes that are a result of the confluence of several small rivers and subterranean karst rivers which are all interconnected.

We took the Route B program which would take about 3 to 4 hours, covering 4km of the park since we would be taking the 2.45pm bus to Zagreb. If we stayed longer, we would have taken the Route C, which would take about 4 to 6 hours, covering 8km of the park.

choose your route

Here are pictures of the Plitvice Lakes and waterfall.

Veliki slap / Big waterfall

Gavanovac lake

Milanovac lake

wooden walkway

boat ride through Kozjak lake

small waterfalls at Kozjak lake

waterfall everywhere

stream along the walkway
green lake Gavanovac and Milanovac

These pictures won't do enough justice to such breathtaking and amazing views of the lakes and waterfalls of Plitvice. You just have to come experience them yourself! With a heavy feeling, we had to bid goodbye to Plitvice and catch our bus to Zagreb. It is certainly not enough doing a half day trek of the park. Perhaps a full 2 days would be more satisfying, but we didn't have sufficient time for our 2 week Balkan trip. And maybe trek the park at each 4 seasons!

Before leaving for Zagreb, we had lunch at Licka Kuca National restaurant again. For our 2.45pm bus to Zagreb, we bought the ticket from the bus driver which cost HRK 85 per person. We just had to wait at the bus stop at Entrance 1.


Friday, October 27, 2017

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

14-16 Sep 2017

We arrived at Sarajevo around 6pm from Mostar via 3pm bus departure (EUR 10.5 per person). The journey from Mostar to Sarajevo was filled with beautiful views of rivers and mountains. We initially wanted to take the train which we read have scenic view and cheaper than bus (EUR 6 per person), but unfortunately the train schedule is either too early (6.25 am) or too late (8 pm), so we had to settle with the bus. But the view from the bus didn't disappoint us.

view of river from our bus otw Mostar to Sarajevo

Again, Bosnian hosts are so hospitable. Our host in Sarajevo, Ernad was waiting for us at the bus station as we had informed him our departure time from Mostar. He then brought us to our Apartments ABC Central (EUR 63 for 2 nights, Booking.com), about 15 minutes by car from the bus station. He explained to us the places of interest around Sarajevo - our place is very near to the Old Bazaar of Bascarsija (5 minutes walking). We could also take the tram from Katredala to the bus station.

our host in Sarajevo- Ernad. Told you they are tall people

our studio apartment ABC Central in Sarajevo

After checking in, we walked to Bascarcija, the Old Bazaar of Sarajevo, built in the 15th century to have early dinner and do some window shopping. We walked along Ferhadija street where the Eastern culture of Islamic Ottoman empire meets the Western Christian Austro-Hungarian culture in Sarajevo. We have a full day tomorrow in Sarajevo. We would only be leaving for Plitvice, Croatia the day after tomorrow.  For dinner tonight, we had cevapi and mixed dolma at Bosanska Kuca Steak House, but the dolma is so-so. The grilled cevapi tasted good though.

Sacred Heart cathedral near Bascarcija

Western style buildings at Ferhadija street

Bascarcija landmark

shops at Old Bazaar
more shopping
mixed dolma
we love cevapi

decor in Bosanska Kuca Steak House

We also dropped by Morica Han, a caravanserai around the 17th century where travellers stopped by to rest and recover from the day's journey. It could accommodate about 300 passengers and 70 horses during the time. Now it houses shops and cafes.

shops at Morica Han

dining at Morica Han

 On the way back, we stopped by Latin bridge, an Ottoman bridge over the Milijacka river where the Archduke of Austria Franz Ferdinand was assasinated in 1914, which started World War I.

Latin bridge

The next morning, we ventured out to the Old Bazaar again. We visited the  Gazi Huzref Begova mosque, built in the 16th century as a waqf, an endowment made by the Ottoman governor of Bosnia. But it was still closed for tourist visit. It opens at 9am. However, worshippers can pray outside, within the compound.

ablution fountain at Gazi Husref Begova mosque

Gazi Husref Begova mosque, prayers can be done outside, on the red carpet

Since we haven't bought our bus ticket to Plitvice yet for tomorrow, we took the tram from Bascarcija to the bus station. We bought the bus ticket to Bihac, a city near to the Bosnian-Croatian border as there was no direct bus from Sarajevo to Plitvice. Even the bus station info center didn't know if there is any connecting buses. We decided to take our chance. If there is no connecting bus, we would take a taxi instead. The bus ticket from Sarajevo to Bihac cost KM 40 (Bosnian Mark ) per person.

Sarajevo tram
inside the tram

Back at Bascarcija, we went for breakfast at Kolobara Han, Sarajevo’s first inn, built in the second half of the 15th century by the city’s founder, Isa Bey Ishaković. It was also a caravanserai which could accommodate 400 people and 35 horses for an overnight stay. We had kljukusa, a traditional potato pie and sitni cevap traditional food, with Bosnian coffee of course.

Kolobara Han

Bosnian coffee

sitni cevap
kljukusa potato pie

We continued to window shop around the Old Bazaar to check out the prices first; we would buy the souvenirs later in the afternoon. Then walked to the Sarajevo City Hall or Vijecnica, which was built at the end of the 19th century with pseudo Moorish style during the Austro-Hungarian period.

Old Bazaar in the morning

Vijecnica City Hall

Latin bridge over the Milijacka river

Since it was Friday, Partner In Crime decided to perform the Friday prayers in Sarajevo. He went to the Bakr-babina mosque just across the Miljacka river, not far from our apartment.

Bakr-babina mosque

Friday prayers inside Bakr-babina mosque

After Friday prayers, we went to the Museum of Crimes against Humanity and Genocide 1992-1995 nearby the Sacred Heart Cathedral. Entrance fee is KM 5 per person and you can visit again with the same ticket as many times as you like. It is housed in a tiny space, filled with very graphic exhibits, personal items of victims, videos and photos. It is not recommended for people below 18 years old due to very graphic nature of torture, crimes inflicted and mutilated bodies. It is a must visit though to learn more about war atrocities in the modern world and the status of the war tribunal - International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Very disturbing facts indeed, Partner In Crime refused to take any pictures from the museum.

Museum of Crimes against Humanity and Genocide

video and ICTY facts

a concentration camp

We left the museum feeling shaken, but it was a necessary visit to serve as a reminder of how people could commit such atrocities. We spent the rest of the evening buying souvenirs, visited the Gazi Husrev Begov bezistan - an old bazaar built in 1555, currently housing small shops selling souvenirs, clothes and crafts. It reminds me of the souks or grand bazaar in Istanbul , Shiraz, Esfahan and Tehran. We had early dinner at Kolobara Han again, this time trying the Begova corba or Bey's soup. We wanted to try the klepe (traditional dumpling), but it wasn't available today.

Gazi Husrev Begov bezistan facade

shops inside Gazi Husrev Begov bezistan

an artisan crafts lane

Bey's soup

Tomorrow will be an early start, taking the 7.30am bus to Bihac, then onwards to Plitvice Lakes National park, a Unesco Heritage site. Thank you very much Sarajevo, a beautiful city of Eastern Ottoman and Western Austro-Hungarian cultures, sadly broken by the 1992 - 1995 war, but now is bouncing back to recovery. Qatar airways is starting its route to Sarajevo on 31 October 2017, perhaps a return visit may be happening to cover the other cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.