( firstly I need to apologise to my readers and followers for my absence from blogging. Life has been very busy completing studies in travel and starting my very own travel business…but I’m back now!)
Or words to that effect came from my husband when I mentioned our travel plans included a visit to Bosnia. He always includes a “darling” at the end when he really wants to say ‘this is a silly idea, forget it as I don’t think Bosnia will be safe”. Mostar was intended place and the Stari Most (old bridge) that crosses the River Neretva was what I wanted to see. It’s been on my barrel (bucket list is too small for me) list of places to visit for many years and given we were travelling to Croatia again I thought we should add Mostar to the trip.
I was well aware that the main feature of Mostar (the bridge) had been totally destroyed in November 1993 by the Croatian forces and what we see today is a reconstruction of the bridge…no matter….. the place still has plenty of history. The hump-backed bridge has connected both sides of the city since the 16th century and history tells us it has straddled the river majestically for 427 years. More about the bridge later.
Of course, nothing is ever as simple as it seems, I caused Ty further alarm when I mentioned there were no direct flights from Athens to Dubrovnik but mentioned we could drive via Albania. However, a flight directly to Belgrade, Serbia was the best option. I was now changing our plans to suit the flight path! Ok, throw away the previous plan and start the second part of the trip again. I ignored any reservations I might have about the trip and heard ‘blah blah blah’ whenever Ty mentioned the possible dangers of a trip through Serbia and Bosnia. I started researching the drive, I looked up reviews of anyone who’d completed the drive taking note of any useful information. I read road reports including reports about unexploded incendiary devices and how these had moved during the floods they’d had a year earlier. There were warnings to heed such as – do not turn off the main roads or refrain from stopping off on the side of the road and getting out of the car to take a stroll in the countryside. I came to the conclusion that we would be fine as long as we drove on the main roads and stopped for loo breaks in a town…no squatting behind a tree for me….haven’t attempted that since I almost backed into a large spiderweb containing a very large and unattractive spider. Given my extreme fear of spiders it was enough to make me hold in any urge to wee in the bush from that time on…..I, for one, would not be in any danger of stepping on any unexploded devices!
Destination problem solved, we would fly to Serbia, pick up a car at the end of our couple of days in Belgrade and drive to Croatia via Bosnia. Our danger lurked within……there were 4 of us on the trip and one was an Australian born of Croatian parents. We just had to keep Frank under control in Serbia and Bosnia….lol.
Our disembarkation from the Greek Island cruise and the flight to Belgrade did not match up for the same day…there was only one daily flight to Belgrade from Athens at 9 am and the ship didn’t dock till 7.30am. We were on Greek time so I didn’t want to tempt fate so an overnight stay at a resort on the coast would be welcome before the next leg of the trip. I chose the Aquis Mare Nostrum resort away from Athens so the temptation to shop has been removed and forced relaxation would be the order of the day!! I had booked a hire car to pick us up from the port and deliver us to the resort. Our driver, Zios, was very friendly and chatted away freely on the drive. Frank took the front seat on this drive so he interacted more with Zios than we did. The resort was definitely out of Athens, as we drove further into the country and we encountered many country lanes, sadly, I knew there would be absolutely no chance of shopping……I was now beginning to doubt this idea of a self imposed rest day. Oh well, as Ty would say, suck it up princess!
As we drove down yet another country lane a tractor driven by an elderly man with trailer in tow was coming towards us. Nothing unusual about that you’re thinking, we’re driving down a country lane surrounded by farms, and you would be right, except for what the trailer was carrying. Perhaps a pig, maybe a cow, no, there at the front of the trailer stood a plump elderly woman dressed in a blue dress holding onto the wire of the trailer cage with one hand and her fabulous white hat with the other. The brim of her hat was blowing about her head as the tractor moved along at top speed. Did I get a photo, no, ‘cos by the time our brains registered what our eyes saw, it was too late. When I finally stopped laughing I wanted to go back and take a photo but we couldn’t – we were in a hire car and we couldn’t ask the driver to follow that tractor please! If Ty had been driving we certainly would have taken that photo and it would be part of our photo gallery at home. What a fabulous, and funny, sight. Priceless to us but probably a normal sight to this farming area outside Athens.
Arriving at the resort I note how large this place is, a lot larger than I had expected. Our bungalow was advertised as a beach bungalow but it was not close to the beach at all, in fact it was a 10 minute walk down to the pool area, so the advertising on this one was embellished a little. A little disappointing but we could live with it. It’s just an overnight stop! There were several bungalows close to the pool area but not overlooking it. A little further on past the bungalows and on the other side of a fenced off area, with a gate housing a security guard, was the sandy area of the beach. There was a small roadway and a grassed area between the bungalows and the fence. So beware if you’re booking the resort – no bungalows are on or close to the beach nor do you have a view of the beach as they are ground level. Looks great in the brochure and online. The guest entry area and hotel rooms are on several levels in the main building set at the very back of the resort.
After checking in we went to our respective rooms, the 2 boys up in the lifts, their rooms were in the main hotel, and we,on a golf cart with our luggage, were driven to our unit. Definitely not a bungalow but a unit in a small complex.
We met up again to have coffee and find a place to park our bodies on beach chairs near the pool. Parking of bodies was at a premium with all spaces taken around the pool area and out on the beach so we had to avail ourselves of a couple of sun lounges in a grassy area under the trees. We were fine, it was a very hot day so the shade was welcome. When we picked up the beach towels Troy commented that ‘they were warmer than some of our brekkies on the ship’! Love our Lord Lunchalot…very witty individual.
I managed to get through the day lazing around, a little bit of blog writing, a little bit of reading and a little bit of eating helped pass the time. This is not something I could do all the time or even 2 days in a row…I’m easily bored. If I can’t shop and I’m tired of reading or writing I have to eat….
The afternoon was drawing to a close and soon our conversation turned to dinner…’what were our plans’ asked Troy. ‘Well, we are in a resort with nothing in close proximity’ I replied. ‘Perhaps we could try escaping and walking to the nearest town but I’m not sure of the direction’ ‘We could call a taxi’ our Uber loving friend replied. ‘Hmm, I think it’s dinner here in the restaurant’ was my comeback. And so it was that we went back to our respective rooms, us to the bungalow that wasn’t a bungalow, Frank and Troy to their hotel rooms with agreement to meet in the lobby in an hour and a half (at 6.30).
When we enter the lobby at 6.25pm Troy is waiting however 20 minutes later Frank still hasn’t arrived. As we have to walk back past the lifts we contemplate heading to the restaurant hoping Frank will step out of the lift as we pass. We tried calling his room earlier but there was no reply so we assume he is on his way or possibly ignoring us. Given the amount of time that passed he’s probably ignoring us…
The restaurant was a buffet. “Oh no” from me. I’m not keen on buffets, very often there’s too many children, and adults for that matter, touching the food. The buffet was 22 euros and included unlimited soft drinks and beer. The food on offer was actually very good and a large proportion of the food was being freshly cooked as you ordered. I was impressed with the fabulous waitress making the profiteroles. Yes, dessert is my favourite part of the meal! The boys (well, we still call them boys don’t we ladies?) were very happy with the food on offer, beef was tender and they found 4 different flavours of ice cream on offer.
We all agreed the food was fabulous but then we weren’t sure whether it was because the food on the ship had been unappetising. Perhaps we’d prefer to think the former.
We couldn’t help but notice the diverse range of ages, body shapes and sizes in budgie smugglers and bikinis. I love the Europeans for the way they ignore the perception of what constitutes a beautiful body and/or embarrassment around body image – they just wear what they themselves are comfortable in.
After dinner we found there was nothing much happening in the resort so we sat in the lounge area with a coffee chatting before retiring. I often have a thought that it would be lovely and relaxing to stay in a resort in the middle of nowhere….I’ve since removed that line of thinking. I need to be occupied for a good part of the day and evening…reading a book every night does not fill me with excitement nor does watching television in a foreign country….there’s only so much of CBC and BBC world I can digest.
This morning we have an early flight to Belgrade. We rose at 5am and when we went to check out found the hotel opened to allow early leavers to have breakfast. Another point in their favour.
The flight to Belgrade was uneventful…we left Athens on time and arrived at Belgrade at 9.10am. Our hotel was in the centre of town, Hotel Moskva, however we were too early to check in so we left our luggage and wandered around taking in our surroundings. We changed currencies, 370 Serbian Dinar (RSD) = 3 euros. Cake 480 dinar and coffee 370 dinar so a total of 850 dinar just under 7 euros.
First impressions of Belgrade, have to say, very similar to other Eastern European countries, very wide streets, grey – buildings and weather. No awnings so when it rains there’s no chance of cover. We’d walked for a bit, skies were bleak and it was now time for food. Lord Lunchalot is our food/drinks timepiece….you can be sure he’ll remind us it’s coffee time or eating time. We lunched at Le Moliere cafe.
The rain had started whilst we were enjoying our lunch. Unfortunately it was still raining when we finished our lunch so we had to step out into the rain and walk the 800 metres to the hotel without cover. Damn, I had washed my hair that morning and I’m sure Lord Lunchalot and Gorging Gonz (Frank, for those of you new to my blogs) had placed styling product in their hair as well. Ty was not affected by the rain!
It was now time to check into the hotel……and this in itself is another story and a lesson in checking bookings for accuracy.
We stepped up to the desk beside 2 dishevelled men who were being told, quite bluntly, that they could go across the road to another hotel as they didn’t have a reservation. Obviously the hotel was fully booked. Luckily we had booked almost 12 months prior…..or had we?
It was now our turn….’Yes, we have a booking for Starr and Littleton but we have no booking for Anderson”. “That’s not possible, there should be 3 bookings, 2 were made together and the 3rd made a month or 2 later” I said. “No, no booking for Anderson and no rooms available” “But we had made a booking” I was adamant. I had booked ours and Troy’s but not Frank’s as he wasn’t there at the time. I helped book the 3rd room a couple of months later. The reception staff checked the reservations system and found Frank’s booking…but it was for 9th May (09/05/) not 5th Sept (05/09). European dates for reservations are completed month first whereas ours are day first. Knowing this I’m always careful to double check I have it correct. In this case I did not have a copy of the accommodation confirmation so I couldn’t check it for accuracy as it went to Frank. When the receptionist gave us the information Frank remembered being charged for the room back in May but when he told me back in May we didn’t think anything of it….hotels sometimes do take the full amount months before guests arrive. The hotel said the only option was for Frank to go across the road to the other hotel. This was not a suitable option for us and, as you would expect, Frank was not a happy chappy, nor was I, and the Croat/Serbian hostilities might just start up again so we had to quickly dissolve this unfortunate error that neither of us picked up. The staff were not at all helpful and were a little terse. Luckily or unluckily, whichever way you choose to look at it, I had booked a duplex room to see what it was like. I try to choose different options when staying at hotels so I can report back on what, other than standard rooms, are available. So, I can tell you dear reader, that a duplex room at the Moskva Hotel in Belgrade sleeps 4 people, has 2 toilets but unfortunately, only one bathroom on the small upper level bedroom area. Needless to say the 2 nights spent in Belgrade were not the happiest or most relaxed experience for everyone but we got through it…..
After taking our luggage to our rooms we met in the lobby to discuss our plan of action. We decided a city tour might be worthwhile so we walked back to the shopping area looking for the visitor information centre. Found it! Enquired about city tours or any other recommended tour that might be available. Unfortunately we were too late to book a tour for today but booked a half day city tour and Castle visit for tomorrow morning. As it was now quite late in the afternoon we thought it time for a relaxing drink.
During the early hours of Sunday morning I was woken by car doors slamming and lots of voices in the street below. Our room overlooked a park behind the hotel. I looked out and saw taxis dropping people off in the park. Men, women and children some with pieces of luggage but mostly plastic bags. I gathered that they were some of the refugees making their way from the Greek Islands through Macedonia and Albania to Serbia. There was perhaps 30 or so people that had arrived. They were still sitting/standing around the park when we left the hotel mid morning but when we returned at 2pm they had gone.
As with most of Europe Sunday’s a non event with most shops closed. I came to the conclusion that Sundays in Belgrade lend themselves to dog walking and the large cafe culture. Not a bad thing really. Not having a dog to walk we decide to take a walking tour of Belgrade ending with a visit to the Castle. This was a prebooked walking tour, we reached our meeting point 15 minutes earlier than the starting time of 11am and patiently waited for our guide. We waited, we wandered up and down looking at the buildings, we waited watching people walk by…not many people walked by so each time we saw a man heading our way we thought it must be our guide….no they walked by. we continued to wait, kicked a few rocks around, sat on a bench, got up again, had another discussion on how long we would wait, stood around and eventually said…”Obviously the guide has decided to walk his dog or sit at an outdoor cafe and enjoy a coffee and the sunshine!” So we unanimously agreed to head to the Castle ourselves and take our own tour.
The castle was impressive with great views. The garden has some magnificent trees with thick foliage forming a bower and reaching the ground. Made for some fun photos. There were rows of military vehicles and canons on show from the earlier conflicts with Bosnia.
Nearing the end of our castle wandering Lord Lunchalot and Gorging Gonz reminded us it was past their lunch time. Lunch for me was a small ‘vitamin’ salad. Not sure why it was so called…it consisted of tomato, lettuce, cucumber, carrots and cost 450 dinar.
Later in the afternoon the weather was becoming cold and the skies were starting to darken and a sensible decision was made to go to our hotel and sit on the terrace and partake in afternoon tea. A hot chocolate for me – it really was hot chocolate. A block of chocolate melted! It was so thick it was hard to drink but it was yummy.
Ty and I dined in the hotel restaurant this evening, food was very good.
Whilst in Serbia, sitting around a table sipping wine and talking rubbish (as you do) Ty and I told Gorging Gonz and Lord Lunchalot about our plan to ensure we would not unwittingly come across unexploded IEDs which may have slipped towards the road during recent heavy rains. We had devised a dance, similar to The Stomp, they could perform a few feet in front of the car as we drove through Serbia to Bosnia to check for unexploded devices. One step forward, one step to the left, one to the right, stamp both feet on the spot, 1 step forward ………..