The Balkans

The Balkans are a fascinating part of Europe.
The Macedonians build a fountain and upset the Greeks. On the road to Lake Ohrid villages fly Albanian flags instead of Macedonian ones. Kosovan taxi drivers believe fundamentalists are being sponsored in their country by former foes. In Sarajevo, the place the First World War started is not easy to find, but evidence of more recent atrocities is.
Memories are long in The Balkans, contrasts and contradictions are all around. History is always in your face, reminding you nothing stays the same for long in this most fascinating corner of Europe.
In Croatia, Dubrovnik is so popular a one-way system is now in operation on the city walls. Kotor in Montenegro is quieter and has a more beautiful setting. These places show what can happen if the past can be forgotten and the present allowed to persevere.
This book will help explain why things are the way they are in a few short stories.

A cycling tour of the Balkans: two wheels, three countries, four days

A challenging trip taking in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro

Bosnia’s new cycle trail is a big ‘open-air museum’

The Ciro trail, from Dubrovnik to Mostar in southern Bosnia, is encouraging tourists back to the empty green landscape that was largely abandoned during the 1990s wars in the former Yugoslavia

Bridge across the Drina

Not including Mostar, I saw two outstanding Ottoman bridges in Bosnia. The first was called the Mehmed Pasa Sokolovic Bridge in the town of Visegrad, built in 1571 by the brilliant Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, who is mainly known for creating mosques such as the Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul. The bridge was immortalised in Ivo Andric’s Nobel Prize-winning novel ‘Bridge on the Drina’. The bridge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has 11 masonry arches with spans of 11 m to 15 m, and an access ramp at right angles with four arches on the left bank of the river. The 179.5 m long bridge is regarded as a masterpiece of Sinan’s, of whom UNESCO wrote “Sinan, one of the greatest architects and engineers of the classical Ottoman period and a contemporary of the Italian Renaissance, with which his work may be compared.”

Kotor Bay in Montenegro

Beginning in Kotor, my advice would be to obtain a map from the tourist information at the Venetian built Sea Gate but then put it away, safe in the knowledge you do have some help if you get horribly lost in the Stari Grad (Old Town). In other words, Kotor is a place to wander around with no set plan or destination in mind. At some point you will pass by the Maritime Museum, St Tryphon’s Cathedral, The Clock Tower, a stone pyramid and the Cats Museum, though not necessarily in that order. There will be time to admire the shops, squares, and churches of the Stari Grad and eat or drink coffee/beer in some of the numerous cafes and restaurants.

The more energetic can climb the 1350 steps to the fortress, situated 260 metres above the town, for unforgettable views of the Bay of Kotor and the old town with its seemingly triangular shaped walls. There may be a cruise ship docked at the quay while other, smaller boats will be ferrying visitors to some of the other sights in the bay, such as Perast and the Our-Lady-of-the-Rock Island. This is a view to savour and, in my opinion, it is better even than the view from Mount Srd over Dubrovnik as the grey, steep-sided mountains appear to clutch the bay in their grasp as they disappear to the horizon.