Saturday, 11 October 2014

Republika Hrvatska with a dash of Bosna i Hercegovina (2014)

On a scale from 1 to 10, 1 being least, and 10 being the most, this trip to Croatia (Hrvatska) was certainly a 9 in the unexpected and surprising sense. Not in the least because, hey, I only knew I was guiding this specific trip exactly one week in advance. A week, moreover, that I'd sort of already filled with all kinds of social things I only get to do in between trips. Everybody agrees with me on the second part of the surprise, though I already knew that: Croatia is very not-Balkan, despite what most people might think being asked without looking it up.

Belgians (as I suppose most people from the West) are intrigued as well as embarrassed by the "Civil War" that happened in former Yugoslavia. Intrigued, because though it happened geographically close (relatively), and also within their lifetimes (and mine) seeing as the Republic of Croatia hasn't existed 20 years yet. Embarrassed by just that, too, seeing as they know very little about it, though it happened close by, in time and distance.

Serbs are the bad guys in this story, having killed like the IS is killing today, randomly and without mercy, women and children just as much as men, innocent civilians all around. Croatians claim that, though of course innocents have fallen through their own attacks as well, they have never intentionally launched an attack on anything but enermy-army-related locations.

Locals, however, and local guides specifically, don't want to tell you about the civil war. Croatians call it the "Independence War", mind you, and do not find it Civil at all. They want to tell you about their history. Something that goes far beyond 20 years ago. They want to tell you about their culture. How the Romans came and settled. How the Venetians when in power came and possessed several Croatian provinces on and off. How Italians live in Rovinj and the Istrian peninsula still. How Austro-Hungarian Empire also played a giant role in their making.
They want to emphasize how, even before Croatia became independent, when people used to go to Yugoslavia for their holiday, 90% of them really ended up visiting Croatia of the 6 Republics (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Serbia).

One thing they want people to know, though, about the war: It was never about religion.
Even when Bosnians and Croatians (in other words, Muslims and Christians respectively) were fighting one another, it was not about religion. People of all religions still live side by side. And had lived for centuries, side by side, before the civil war.

That said, Croatia is much more than just another country with a chaotic (foreign) history.
Even if you don't give a dime for history or culture (though, really, what would you be doing on a round trip like this one), there are other dimensions to the country. Nature, for one. Wild, "untouched", and awesome nature. It makes one speechless. I had several hobby-photographers with me on this trip, and really, they probably had more than their fill with all the different sights.

We also crossed the borders several times, by sleeping in Neum. Dubrovnik (important Game of Thrones setting) is seperated from the rest of Croatia's mainland by a tiny piece of Bosnian coast. They just decided they wanted exactly that piece, Neum. And Croatia could have "the rest", really. Croatia is in progress of building a bridge to a peninsula (Ston) to completely avoid Bosnia.
And we also went to Pocitelje,  Mostar and Medjugorje for a day. Actual Bosnia.

We visited two National Parks: Plitvice and Krka.
We went to a wine tastery. (Is it even called that?)
We did a tour with a Glass Boat in Rovinj.
We laughed. A lot.
We saw and did a great many things.

Enjoy the pictures. The rest of the stories might follow.
Or ask me in person.

Yeah. First thing I saw in Croatia?
Asian people getting a marriage photoshoot with a drone.

Trakoscan Castle, 

A guy with a hammer.
And he wasn't afraid to use it.

Varaždin, the only place they use alleyways to hide sleeping angels. 

Mosaic like churches in Zagreb.

Really. Weirdest museum topic.
The Museum of Broken Relationships.

Zagreb's Cathedral. With Love locks.

Petrovič. The (only) Croatian Basketball Player. 

In Turanj, they have an open air war memorial.

Including home-made tanks 
(notice the wheels? It was a tractor before)

Then there also was a lot of this. 

Plitvice lakes had some gorgeous views. 

That was the highest waterfall there.

Veggies are so colourful. 

Neretva Valley. 
That's where all the fruits and veggies in Croatia come from. 

In Neum (Bosnia and Herzegovina, officially) this was my hotel view. 
I mean. Seriously. I never wanted to leave.

Dubrovnik was most beautiful from up top

Game of Thrones was filming whilst we were there. (!!!)
Security being all important, showing people where to go and specifically of what NOT to take pictures. 

Ston, on a Croatian peninsula, a heavily underestimated touristic place. 
With a defensive wall with a length of 5,5 km. 
Which makes that the second longest wall in the world, after the Chinese Wall. 


Bosnian art?

Not the first mosque (by far) I've been in.
First Bosnian one though.
And I was sort of taken aback by the lack of decoration inside. All was white. 

First Minaret I ever climbed, too. So yeah. 
Nice view over the city.
With it's especially ridiculously high church tower.

Stari Most (Literally: Old bridge) 

Međugorje, pronounced ME-joo-gor-ye
Biggest Place of Pilgrimage in Eastern Europe.
Apparitions of Saint Mary have increasinly occurred since the end of the last century. 
The Vatican does not recognize it as an official Pilgrimage destination, because of the ongoing sightings. 

A city that breathes history. 
It was beautiful. 

Extra (bonus) stop: Trogir.
I had dark-chocolate ice cream for the first time in my life.

Krka, the second National Park we visited. 
Crazy how many rainbows we saw that day. On eye level. Or lower. 

We ate at Etnoland.
Josko, I recognized, was applying the technique I specialized in during my tour guiding:
Story Telling. 
He was good. 

We went to see the Sun Greeting in Zadar. By night. 
Which is pretty special. Lauwers/ Drivers don't usually do cities by night. 
This particular piece of art, though, is best seen when the sun goes down.
It's built in the form of the Solar System, has tiny little solar panels, that soak up the light.
A battery saves this light, turns it to energy, and uses said energy for a light show after sundown. 
Pretty cool. 

By daylight, that's what the Sun Greeting looks like. 

Masleniča Most (bridge). 
An "old" (new, really) bridge, symbol of the war. 

Opatija: Girl with the Seagull

Poreč ( pronounced PO-retch)  has a beautiful mosaic Basilica

Lim valley.
Limes meaning border in Latin.
Between Dalmatia and Istria. 

Pula: 6th biggest amphitheater in the world. 


Mostly, I enjoyed the group itself. I used to think all Vacation-goers were the same. All groups, are, on average, the same. You have those positive people, you have whiners. You have those that prefer a coffee to a walk or history lesson, and you have the know-it-all geeks that've read a book and thus think they have all the inside information. You have the people who think they are funny. You have the gloomy pessimists.  In general, very stereotypically, yes. That's what your average group consists of.

With one group, though,  you get a wave of relief when the trip is nearing it's end.
With another, if you're told you have to take them on yet another week, you would not mind.
This group falls in the latter category. This group made me happy each morning with their atmosphere and cheerful greetings. This group was more personal and intimate than most groups I've been lucky to have with me. This group was awesome.


The Gypsy

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