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

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

Travels through History: Journeys in the former Yugoslavia – Sarajevo

This excerpt from the book about my travels in The Balkans

Now it was time for me to find the place where the first World War started on the street by the river. On their wedding anniversary, June 28th 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were assassinated by a member of the Black Guard group called Gavrilo Princip. That’s a stark fact I hope most people know. What is not well known is the absolute tragedy of errors that preceded this shooting. Princip was not a lone gunman. There were five other assassins in Sarajevo that day, but either they froze and were unable to carry out their attack or they were incompetent. In the latter category, so the story goes, was Nedeljko Cabrinovic. At 10:10 am, Franz Ferdinand’s car approached Cabrinovic where he was standing on the riverside road. Cabrinovic threw his bomb at the car. Sadly for Cabrinovic, and many other people, the bomb bounced off the folded-back convertible cover into the street. The bomb’s timed detonator caused it to explode under the next car in the procession leaving a 1-foot-diameter, 6-inch-deep crater in the road and wounding 16–20 people.

Cabrinovic swallowed a cyanide pill and jumped into the Miljacka river. This suicide attempt failed for two reasons. The first was that the cyanide only induced vomiting. The second was that the river was only 6-inches deep due to the dry summer. The police dragged Cabrinovic out of the river and he was promptly beaten by the crowd before being taken into custody. Franz Ferdinand carried on his way to the City Hall where he complained, perhaps not surprisingly, about the welcome he had received. Plans for the return journey were changed although the driver of Franz Ferdinand’s car forgot and followed the original route. When he was reminded of his wrong turning, he reversed the car, and this was when Princip fired two shots. He did not miss. If the driver had not been reminded and continued on his way, Princip would not have killed Franz Ferdinand and events might have been very different. As it was, Princip was prevented from shooting himself by a sharp-witted bystander and stood trial. Princip died of TB in 1918, roughly seven months before the chain of events he started came to an end.

Travels through History: Journeys in the former Yugoslavia – Kosovo

This excerpt from the book about my travels in The Balkans

“My friends and I think that someone pays them to wear that clothing,” said the taxi driver, pointing at a woman wearing a burqa, “and it has only started in the last 18 months, 2 years. It is the same with the men growing the long beards, they are being paid to make the long beard. It is not traditional. That is what the Muslim women wear here,” he continued jabbing a nicotine-stained finger at another woman with a long, orangey-yellow scarf wrapped around her hair. She was also wearing a long-sleeved blouse and a baggy skirt, both in understated pastel shades. “Those long-bearded men are being paid to be radicals.” “Who would do that, which country would do that, which organisation would pay people to wear burqas and grow beards?” I asked sceptically. “It is Serbia, they are paying people a hundred Euros a month or more to make these statements, so they can cause unrest amongst the people and cause the people to doubt each other. But it won’t work, because they don’t know the Muslims, they don’t know we won’t fall out with each other, because there’s no jihad against fellow Muslims. It is not just to fight your brother, but it is just to fight against a different religion if the circumstances are right.”

Travels through History: Journeys in the former Yugoslavia – Montenegro

This excerpt from the book about my travels in The Balkans

The Bay of Kotor in Montenegro contains a number of stunning man-made sights, but the true beauty of the bay comes from seeing the mountains sweeping down to the sea. This can best be appreciated from either the water or from the fortifications above the town of Kotor itself.

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.

Travels through History: Journeys in the former Yugoslavia – Bosnia-Herzegovina

This excerpt from the book about my travels in The Balkans

If the visitor just sees the area around the Turkish bridge, they would find it difficult to believe there was ever a war in Mostar. To find this evidence the visitor should walk past the Karadozbeg Mosque and the Roznamendi Effendi Mosque to the Musala Bridge and look at the ruins of the Neretva Hotel. 80% of Mostar was destroyed during the Balkans War and the ruined buildings in the area of the hotel bear witness to this devastation. The Bosnian Muslim elements within Mostar and the Croats were allies against the Serbs and when the latter were defeated there was peace in the city for roughly a year, before fighting between Bosnians and Croats began with the front line being the street called Kralja Zvonimira.

 

Travels through History: Journeys in the former Yugoslavia -Croatia

This excerpt from the book about my travels in The Balkans

Dubrovnik in Croatia has the finest set of city walls anywhere in the world. They’re an essential visit for any traveller or tourist to this most beautiful of old cities, which for five centuries was a major power in the Mediterranean. Since my previous visit, two interesting changes had been made regarding the walls. The first was visitors now had to pay for the privilege of walking around the ramparts and the second was a one-way system was in operation, so people could only walk in an anti-clockwise direction. Visitors have two entrances to choose from, by the Pile Gate and by the Ploce Gate near the harbour, and most people seem to walk from the latter to the former, in other words on the land side – with the amount of tourists in town on occasions, from up to six cruise ships, it just might be the quickest way to get across Dubrovnik. The walls are roughly 2 kilometres in circumference and 25 metres high at their highest point.