Watch this space for our upcoming trip to Croatia and The Balkans

We are about to embark on an adventure to Croatia and the Balkans, travelling with our friends Janet & John Evans and Diana and Chris Penhall.

The key components of our itinerary include a 15 day tour with G-Adventures making our way from Budapest in Hungary to Split in Croatia, followed by 7 days on a cycling & cruising tour of Istria in northern Croatia. We then spend a couple of days at the Plitvice Lakes in Croatia before heading to Dusseldorf to visit a special friend. After that, it's back home.

Watch this space to follow our adventures although updates may be spasmodic depending on access to the internet.


Our Qatar Airlines flight from Melbourne to Doha left on Monday 5th September at 22:00. The Boeing 777 300 ER was jam-packed to the limit with its complement of 412 passengers. Tullamarine departure and bag-drop area was so crowded that the ‘checking-in’ process took forever.

We met up with our travelling companions, John and Janet Evans from Melbourne and at close to the appointed hour we were on our way to Doha, the capital of Qatar.

The flight for just over 14 hours was uneventful with our westward flight-path keeping up with the occurrence of nightfall as we crossed the Australian continent and headed across Sri Lanka and on towards the Persian Gulf.

We landed at Doha International Airport at around 04:30 local time on Tuesday 6th September.

What was supposedly a very brief stop at Doha proved to be much longer than expected due to our next plane to Budapest being held up because of some mechanical concerns.

We spent several hours in the vast Doha air terminal and after quite a deal of ‘to-ing and fro-ing’ we eventually boarded our Airbus A320 and headed off for Hungary.

The aerial view we sighted around Doha was a bleak desert scene with a dominance of sandy barren waste with no signs of vegetation. The city of Doha is just like Dubai with gigantic sky-scrapers filling a void between the desert and the sea. The gulf countries are now feeling the pinch as their economies and subsequent wealth were created principally from ‘petro-dollars’. Qatar was previously categorised as the wealthiest country in the world on a per-capita basis.

Leaving the Qatar peninsula we then headed across the Persian Gulf taking a mid-course between Basra and Shiraz in Iran.

Our north-westerly path then took a distinct northerly turn towards Baku in Georgia so as to avoid entering into the airspace around Baghdad. From there on it was a flight-path towards Ankara and then across the Black Sea meeting land again just north of Istanbul.

Although it was too cloudy to notice we passed over the city of Bucharest, the capital of Romania. Snow capped mountains were partly visible through the cloud.

The air traffic in this region must be quite busy as on two occasions we were able to see close-by the condensation trails of other aircraft.

Our flight from Doha to Budapest took just under six hours and at this stage we were starting to feel the effects of limited ‘quality’ sleep and our body clocks telling us we should be asleep.

We acquired Hungarian forints from an airport ATM and the four of us then caught a taxi in to the centre of Budapest and we checked into our 1918 Art Deco Hotel on the banks of the Danube River.

In the late afternoon we wandered across the nearby iron Liberty Bridge and visited the famous Budapest market. This was inside a very large building and the wares on sale were principally fruit, vegetables and meat (processed salamis and fresh meats too) plus clothing and trinkets in the upstairs section.  

Central Market Place, Budapest

Central Market Place, Budapest

River Danube from Szabadsag (Liberty) Bridge

River Danube from Szabadsag (Liberty) Bridge

Szabadsag (Liberty) Bridge

Szabadsag (Liberty) Bridge

After an hour of wandering, our tired legs and weary bodies were calling for rest so we headed back to the prominent Gellent Spa Hotel for a brief chat to plan for tomorrow’s activities and then we headed for a much-needed sleep. Twenty-five hour’s of non-stop travelling had caught up with us.

Inside Danubius Hotel Gellert

Inside Danubius Hotel Gellert

Danubius Hotel Gellert (our hotel)

Danubius Hotel Gellert (our hotel)


With our internal time clocks still adjusting to the new location we were wide awake at dawn and ready to start our day of travel in Budapest.

After a fabulous breakfast suitable for a king we headed off to the nearest Metro station (Szent Gellert ter) near our hotel with the plan being to purchase three day passes for the Budapest public transport system. The plan came unstuck when the automatic ticket issuing system couldn’t cope with the 10,000 forint notes we had.

We decided to wait till later to get these passes and subsequently commenced our sight-seeing walk which started with the crossing of the Liberty Bridge over the Danube and then we followed the main street called Vamhaz Krt on the Pest side of the river. The weather conditions were ideal for our intended pedestrian meanderings with a forecast maximum temperature of 29°C. The sky was cloudless and we had a gentle breeze providing a cooling effect for much of the day.

Our travels took us along wide streets lined with avenues of trees and attractive city buildings. We ventured into some of the smaller side streets where coffee shops and open-air eating places seemed to abound.

We passed the Hungarian National Museum and walked on towards the Great Synagogue where we spent some time.

This stunning building with its crenellated yellow and red glazed brick façade and its two enormous Moorish-style towers is the largest Jewish house of worship in the world outside New York.

Great Synagogue, Budapest

Great Synagogue, Budapest

Inside Great Synagogue

Inside Great Synagogue

Garden, Great Synagogue, Budapest

Garden, Great Synagogue, Budapest

Tree of Life, Great Synagogue

Tree of Life, Great Synagogue

Having a seating capacity for 3000 worshipers it was built in 1859 according to the designs of Viennese architect Ludwig Forster thus containing both Romantic and Moorish architectural elements. The building was renovated in the 1990s largely through private donations including US$5 million from Estee Lauder who was born in New York to Hungarian Jewish immigrants.

The internal decorations of the Synagogue are spectacular with rose windows and wall and ceiling frescoes with multicoloured and gold geometric shapes. Both Franz Liszt and Camille Saint Saens played the 5000-pipe organ dating from 1859.

In the garden on the Synagogue’s north side is a memorial to the Holocaust. The garden has been established over a mass grave of Hungarian Jews murdered by the Nazis during the horrifying events of 1944-45. In the courtyard adjacent to this garden is a metal tree whereby the leaves of this ‘tree of life’ show the engraved surnames of some of the hundreds of thousands of victims from this terrible part of history.

Our next stop was at the Bascilica of Saint Stephen on Bajcsy-Zsilinszky street. This is the most important Catholic church in Hungary. It is a neo-classical cathedral in the form of a Greek cross and can accommodate 8000 worshipers!

Bascilica of Saint Stephen, Budapest

Bascilica of Saint Stephen, Budapest

Its construction commenced in 1851 but the cathedral wasn’t completed until 1902. The façade of the basilica is anchored by two large bell towers one of which contains a 9.25 tonne bell. The dome is 96m high and we ventured to the top via two lifts and some steps to be greeted by what is described as the best possible view out over the city.

The interior decoration is a little gloomy but has spectacular paintings, marble sculptures, gilded frescoes and mosaic covered aches and domes.

Bascilica of Saint Stephen, Budapest

Bascilica of Saint Stephen, Budapest

Inside Bascilica of Saint Stephen, Budapest

Inside Bascilica of Saint Stephen, Budapest

Behind the altar and to the left we followed a darkened corridor to the “Holy Right” which is the Hungarian nation’s most revered relic. This object of great devotion is the mummified right hand of Saint Stephen.

Mummified right hand of St Stephen inside Bascilica of Saint Stephen

Mummified right hand of St Stephen inside Bascilica of Saint Stephen

View from top, Bascilica of Saint Stephen

View from top, Bascilica of Saint Stephen

We stopped then for a cold beer before continuing our wanderings along Andrassy Street.

We went in to the State Opera House but decided that the over crowded foyer was enough to put us off any thought of participating in a guided tour. This 1884 neo-Renaissance building is among the most beautiful in Budapest.

Our final part of the day was spent at the House of Terror. This building was the headquarters of the dreaded secret police and now serves as an evocative museum focussing on the crimes and atrocities of the fascist and Stalinist regimes prior to the uprisings of 1956.

The reconstructed prison cells, torture chambers and gallows are a chilling reminder of this desperately sad time in Hungary’s history. Among the frightening reminders of these terrifying regimes are video interviews with survivors telling of the ordeals and deprivation suffered in these relatively recent times. This three hour visitation was quite confronting to say the least.

Directly opposite the House of Terror we found the Franz Liszt Memorial Museum but with the sun close to setting we decided to head back home to our Hotel Gellert.

Franz Liszt Museum

Franz Liszt Museum

Our return trip home was on the Metro and we were very impressed with the speed and efficiency of this underground railway service.

In the evening we had a meal in the Brasserie in the Gellert Hotel and then headed for bed after a very active day where we walked many kilometres and were on our feet for much of the day.

If first impressions are anything to go by, we all agreed that Budapest is a truly beautiful city with its stunningly impressive architecture and monuments, its open parklands and gardens, the mighty Danube River and the city’s very friendly citizens. We are looking forward to discovering more about this exciting metropolis tomorrow!



Tibor Zelenka our Hungarian friend who we met in Alaska and is now working in the UK very kindly provided us with a suggested tourist guide for our visit to Budapest, his home town. He recommended a visit to the Buda Hills provided that we had nice weather and we certainly did.

On another beautiful sunny, cloud free morning we jumped on the ‘green’ Metro 4 line and headed south-west to Moricz Zsigmond Korter where we were supposed to use Street Car #61.  However there was a problem with the line so instead we caught a bus to a terminus where local residents kindly guided us to our desired destination namely Varosmajor Station. This entailed a fifteen minute walk adjacent to a large park area. Budapest seems to have parkland areas, gardens and avenues where ever you look.

This station is the lower terminus for the cog-railway (ABT) to the Szechenyi Hegi (hill). We couldn’t find a ticket office so we alighted the three carriage train and proceeded up the steep hill. The cog railway was built in 1874 and the 3.4 km of track passes wealthy suburban homes surrounded by many tall trees including large elms, beech, conifers and maples.

Cog Railway train, Buda Hills, Budapest

Cog Railway train, Buda Hills, Budapest

At the three quarter mark we were asked to get off the train as there was a problem with the line and a bus would now take us the remaining distance to the top.

At the top of Szechenyi Hegi we wandered along the hillcrest to the Children’s Railway Station. This narrow gauge railway line was built in 1951 by Pioneers (Socialist Scouts) and the railway is now operated and staffed entirely by school children aged 12 – 14 except for the train drivers. The children run the ticket offices, act as guards on the train and operate the line signals and flags for the eleven kilometre train journey that includes eight stations along the way.

Guard, Children's Railway train, Szechenyi -hegy, Buda Hills

Guard, Children's Railway train, Szechenyi -hegy, Buda Hills

Children's Railway train, Szechenyi-hegy, Buda Hills

Children's Railway train, Szechenyi-hegy, Buda Hills

We left the train at Janos Hegy station, the fourth stop on the line and then walked two kilometres up a steep pathway to the hilltop where we climbed the Erzsebet Lookout Tower to the highest point in the Buda Hills at 527m. The 24m tall lookout tower with 101 steps offers a fantastic panoramic view of Budapest and its surrounds.

Walking from Children's Railway train to Janos Hegy, Buda Hills

Walking from Children's Railway train to Janos Hegy, Buda Hills

After a well earned beer we bought tickets and descended towards the city on the Libego(Chairlift) which terminated at Zugleget.

Erzsebet Kilato lookout, Buda Hills, Budapest

Erzsebet Kilato lookout, Buda Hills, Budapest

View of Budapest from chairlift 002, Buda Hills

View of Budapest from chairlift 002, Buda Hills

A long and meandering bus ride then had us back in the city at Nyugati Metro Station on the Grand Boulevard.

We then returned to our Hotel via the Aldi Supermarket where we purchased tonic water and lemons to dilute our duty-free gin. Tonight we are to be joined by our friends from South Australia, Chris and Diana Penhall who will accompany us on our further journey into the Balkans.

In the mid to late afternoon we climbed the pathway to the Cave Church which is on the Citadel Hill just across the road from our hotel. The church was closed due to Mass being held so we started the slow long climb up Gallert Hill to the fortress which never saw battle.

Szabadsag (Liberty) Bridge from Cave Church, Budapest

Szabadsag (Liberty) Bridge from Cave Church, Budapest

VIew from Liberty Monument, Budapest

VIew from Liberty Monument, Budapest

The fortress was built by the Habsburgs after the 1848-49 War of Independence to defend the city from further insurrection. The Citadella within the fortress is a U shaped structure around a central courtyard which is presently closed to the general public. Beyond the walls of the fortress is a broad walkway giving visitors elevated (231m) views across the city in both directions up and down the Danube. Our late afternoon visit meant the city was lit by a soft evening sunlight making the spectre below crystal clear and quite enchanting. On a high plinth near the fortress wall is a 14m high sculpture of a woman holding a palm frond in her outstretched arms proclaiming freedom throughout the city and the land. This so called Liberation Monument was erected in 1947 in tribute to the Soviet soldiers who died liberating Budapest from the Nazis in 1945. The names of the soldiers and some other smaller statues were subsequently removed in 1992.

Sometime after our return to the hotel we met up with Chris and Diana and after some celebratory drinks we walked around to a nearby restaurant for an evening meal. We all had a serving of the famous Halaszle (Hungarian Fishermen’s) soup which was generally well liked.

Drinks in our room at Danibius Hotel Gellert, Budapest

Drinks in our room at Danibius Hotel Gellert, Budapest

This has been a day of steep climbing to gain access to incredible views and despite the labours involved we all thoroughly enjoyed the travails.

After our two full days of tourist travel in and around Budapest our impression of this city is still one entailing many superlatives. Without question this is a spectacular city and we as visitors have been made to feel very welcome where ever we go!



Today’s itinerary was once again determined by our friend Tibor’s excellent travel guide to Budapest.

We decided to spend most of the morning in the Lipovaros (Leopold Town) District which is centred around the iconic Parliament Building.

We caught the M3 Metro train to Deak Ferenc ter and then wandered through the streets and public squares where the district is home to exceptional 19th century architecture entailing principally administrative offices and very expensive apartments.

In Vorosmarty ter we found a large square surrounded by smart shops, galleries and restaurants. We proceeded towards the Danube and then followed the river past the Ferenc Deak Statue and on to the Szechenyl Chain Bridge.

The buildings along the Danube’s bank in this region are seldom more than four storeys and provide a feast for the eye with many being decorated with Corinthian columns and sculpted figures of famous Hungarians. One such bronze statue was of Jozsef Attila a famous Hungarian poet. The Hungarian Academy of Sciences Building is typical of this superb architectural character which abounds in every direction; the beauty of this city is quite extraordinary.

All along the Danube River bank are cruise vessels many of which are around 100m long and comparatively narrow. Many of these floating hotels ply the Danube and associated river systems usually starting from Western European cities such as Amsterdam and Strasbourg travelling through to the Black Sea and/or vice versa.

Our relaxed good humour was abruptly brought to a halt as we encountered the numerous pairs of cast iron shoes and boots attached to the concrete wall on the riverbank. There must have been around a hundred pairs of footwear that serve as a memorial to the thousands of Hungarian Jewish victims murdered in the Holocaust - a striking and yet terrible reminder of man’s inhumanity. A further cause for reflection on such matters is the terrible event of 25th October 1956. This was the commencement of the uprising of Hungarians against the oppressive Soviet regime which had tortured the nation (both in actual and metaphoric sense) in the post Nazi period. The October day saw the Soviet troops and army tanks enter the city and commence firing at and killing hundreds of civilian protesters. These dreadful times are acknowledged in film and graphic photographs in an underground museum adjacent to the Parliament Square. We spent time here and left feeling hollow and shaken to think that this was so recent!

Shoes remembering victims of Holocaust, Budapest

Shoes remembering victims of Holocaust, Budapest

Nearby we came to the vast and iconic Parliament Building. This 1902 building is the largest in Hungary and is an eclectic blend of architectural styles. Apparently it comprises 691 sumptuously decorated rooms and there is a great deal of ceremonial regalia on display which we unfortunately didn’t have time to see.

When you see travel advertisements for Danube River cruises they invariably depict the Parliament Building at night with its 94m high burgundy coloured dome surrounded by a total of 365 marble and red capped spires.

Parliament building, Budapest

Parliament building, Budapest

The location of the Parliament is directly opposite the Royal Palace on the other (Buda) side of the Danube. This placement was intended to signify that Hungary’s future was to be of a democratic foundation rather than a royal prerogative.

After a coffee break we walked further north up the Danube towards the Margit hid (Margaret Bridge). In the middle of the bridge is a walkway down to Margaret Island which is in neither Buda nor Pest.   

This island comprises gardens, shaded walkways and lightly forested areas. There are ruins of a Franciscan church and monastery together with a one-time Dominican convent where St. Margaret is buried. Margaret was the daughter of King Bela IV who pledged her to a life of devotion in a nunnery if the Mongols who had overrun Hungary in 1241-42 were expelled. The Mongols were defeated and Margaret at age nine was sent to a nunnery. She was canonised only in 1943.

Fountain, Margaret Island, Budapest

Fountain, Margaret Island, Budapest

As the temperature had now reached the high twenties if not low thirties we decided to rest adjacent to the water fountain. This very impressive and large fountain puts on an orchestrated sequence of water spouts and aquatic ballet for periods of five minutes before repeating.

Our return to our hotel entailed tram #6 and then tram #2 back along the river to Liberty Bridge.

In the later afternoon we went for a spa/swim in the hotels indoor thermal pool. This grandiose pool is within a cathedral like building with multiple columns along the sides and decorative Art Nouveau features around the perimeter. The water is high in calcium and magnesium hydrogen carbonate which is said to be good for joint pains, arthritis and blood circulation!

Thermal pools, Danubius Hotel Gellerrt, Budapest

Thermal pools, Danubius Hotel Gellerrt, Budapest

As we found out there are several other thermal water pools within the hotel precinct. One was at 36°C and one of the outside pools had a wave generator to add to the fun.   

We had pre-dinner drinks in Chris’ and Diana’s room overlooking the Danube and then caught a #2 tram to Pier7. We all had a quick pasta or pizza type meal and then headed to the Danube to partake in a river cruise to see the city lights.

The boat we were on had about 200 tourists and each was provided with headphones offering a choice of 30 languages to hear the guided tour.

Danubius Hotel Gellert at night

Parliament at night, Budapest

Budapest at night looked very beautiful with practically all the major buildings, bridges and monuments well lit to emphasise the structures and their architecture.

We then returned to our Gellert Hotel for an early night after another truly fabulous day of sight-seeing in Budapest.

Tomorrow, Friday is our last day here as we meet up with our G Adventures travel group for the Balkans and head south for Serbia on Sunday.


After a leisurely breakfast we packed up and the six of us hired two taxis to transport us to our Star Inn Hotel where we shall meet up with our group of fellow Balkan adventurers and spend just tonight.

Leaving our bags in the hotel storage we caught the Metro through to Szell Kalman ter which put us very close to the Castle District where we intended to spend the next few hours.

After a short bus trip we arrived at the Vienna Gate which is the northern entrance to the Castle Hill District.

Vienna Gate (Becsi Kapu), Castle Hill, Budapest

Cafe, Castle Hill, Budapest

Cafe, Castle Hill, Budapest

The old buildings in this area are immaculately decorated with colourful facades and interesting ancient doors. The locale reminded us very much of Tallinn in Estonia. In a tiny gift shop selling exquisite tapestries, jewellery and miniature paintings of the district Corinne bought a small glass necklace that depicted the two lovers from Klimt’s “The Kiss”.

We wandered amongst these old streets where traffic is highly restricted and thoroughly enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and the quietness that prevailed.

In an attractive village square in this old part of the city we sat under the shade of elms and colourful parasols to enjoy some local beers that were served in large pots. The cool refreshing lagers were much appreciated in the mid-day sun with the temperature now over 30°C.

We then strolled southwards towards the Matthias Church and the Fishermen’s Bastion. The bastion is a neo-Gothic masquerade that looks medieval but offers some of the best views out over the city. It was built as a viewing platform in 1905 and the name was taken from the medieval guild of fishermen responsible for defending this section of the castle wall. There are seven gleaming white turrets representing the Magyar tribes that entered the Carpathian basin in the late 9th century.

Matyas Church, Castle Hill, Budapest

Matyas Church, Castle Hill, Budapest

The Matthias Church dates back 500 years and is named after King Matthias Corvenus who married Beatrix here in 1474. The church is a neo-gothic confection built in the late 19th century. The roof is covered with multi-coloured tiles that gives the impression of a mosaic motif.

Matyas Church, Castle Hill, Budapest

Matyas Church, Castle Hill, Budapest

View from Fishermen's Bastion, Castle Hill, Budapest

View from Fishermen's Bastion, Castle Hill, Budapest

Because of a wine-festival being held we were denied direct access to the Royal Palace and as the only entry point was around the other side of Castle Hill we decided to miss the Modigliani exhibition and head down towards the Danube.

For this we took the funicular railway and then caught a bus and then a train back to our new hotel.

After a refreshing shower and a brief rest we caught a train to see the Ferenc (Franz) Liszt Museum. This is a reconstructed set of rooms representing Liszt’s flat now housed in the Academy of Music building which has been built on the site of where Liszt once lived. The museum comprised three rooms with two grand pianos and several smaller ones including a ‘glass’ piano as well as a small foot pedalled organ (harmonium) that belonged to Liszt. There were many small exhibits including several portraits of Liszt, music scores and manuscripts, his music library, awards for his playing as well as personal belongings. There were two cast models of his hands, one in brass and one in marble. His phenomenal finger length may partly explain his brilliance as a pianist.

Ferenc (Franz) Liszt Museum, Budapest

Music stand, Ferenc (Franz) Liszt Museum, Budapest

At 18:00 we gathered and met the other members in our G Adventures group. We then adjourned and all went for a traditional Hungarian meal in a nearby underground restaurant. The excellent meal was complemented by traditional Hungarian music performed by a violinist, a double bass player and a dulcimer player.

Band at restaurant, Budapest

Band at restaurant, Budapest

Tomorrow we leave Hungary and head for the Balkans. This will be with a degree of regret as these past four days in Budapest have been amongst the best days we’ve ever spent in a big city. The whole experience has been a total delight and the Hungarian hospitality has been beyond the realms of expectation.



The hotel we stayed in last night was modern and characterless being so different from our previous nights where the Gellert Hotel was more like a museum than a hotel.

Despite this we had a sumptuous breakfast in the hotel’s courtyard and then packed our bags for ‘checking out’ in preparation for our train trip to Serbia around mid-day.

In the meantime we jumped on the Metro at the Opera underground station and went to Hosok Tere (Heroes' Square).

Hosok Tere (Heroes’ Square, Budapest

Hosok Tere (Heroes’ Square Budapest

Hosok Tere (Heroes’ Square, Budapest

Hosok Tere (Heroes’ Square, Budapest

The square is around 200m by 200m with the centre being dominated by a 36m column known as the Millenary Monument. This impressive tower is backed by two colonnades to the left and right. Within the structure are 16 bronze statues of famous Hungarians including kings from the last thousand years.

The monument was designed in 1896 to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the Magyar conquest of the Carpathian Basin. At the top of the column is the Archangel Gabriel.

On the northern side of the square is the Museum of Fine Arts with its entrance dominated by eight vast Corinthian columns in golden ratio proportion. To the south of the Millenary Monument is the Palace of Art with decorative frescos in gilt and colour above its entrance.

Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Whilst we were at Heroes' Square, the Budapest ‘half-marathon’ was in action with the finishing line just nearby. The winner who ran past us while we were there appeared to be of Ethiopian or Kenyan origin and was finishing with the clock at 62 minutes. One of the race staff told us that Budapest is vying to hold the Olympic Games for 2024.

Runner, Budapest Half Marathon, Budapest

Participant, Budapest Half Marathon, Budapest

Our G Adventures team gathered and our group with luggage were then transported by taxis and Metro to the central train station ready for our mid-day departure for Serbia.

Keleti Railway Station, Budapest

The train trip to Novi Sad in Serbia took about six and a half hours which included some delays as we crossed the border into Serbia.

The scenery on the way south was pretty much one of constant flat agricultural grounds with thousands of hectares of corn/maize crops nearly ready to harvest.

Corn fields 001, Serbia

There were also large areas of sun-flowers and some small vineyards and apple orchards.

The buildings along the railway line in Serbia seemed much less well maintained than those in Hungary.

On arrival in Novi Sad our group was transported to our hotel by taxis and we then walked to a nearby restaurant for a meal. Typical Serbian meat dishes were tried but the kebabs seemed the most popular.

Cathedral, Novi Sad, Serbia

Tomorrow we will see more of Novi Sad as we are to do a walking tour of the old town and visit the castle.  



The first part of the morning was spent wandering around in the central district of Novi Sad taking in all the sights. Ibrahim, our G-Adventures guide, gave us a brief and informative coverage of the history of the region focussing especially on the seventeenth century and later conflicts between the Turkish Ottoman Empire and the Hungarian Austrian Empire.

The city square is surrounded on two sides by neo-classical Serbian buildings painted in pastel colours whilst at either end of the square are the cathedral and government headquarters. In the centre of the square is a large bronze statue of Svetoza Miletic, a poet, writer and former president of the regional people.

Old town square, Novi Sad

Novi Sad was the former capital of Serbia but now serves principally as the financial headquarters for Serbia with there being a plethora of banks in the city centre.

The Catholic Cathedral is a strikingly attractive stone and pale brick structure featuring a very high bell tower and spire. The roof is appealingly tessellated with multicoloured tiles.

Catholic Church, Novi Sad

Inside Catholic Cathedral, Novi Sad

Inside Catholic Cathedral, Novi Sad

The elaborate internal features of the cathedral are embellished with gold and silver trimmings together with the ubiquitous plaster cast statues of Jesus and Mary.

The Orthodox Church has a distinctive Russian feel with its white clock tower supporting a back and gold tapering plinth upon which features a golden cross. Inside the church were numerous marble pillars and a massive central chandelier. There was no altar as such but instead there were recesses featuring golden icons and pictures of Biblical people. The scene was one of splendour yet lacking the formal regalia and associated idolatry of Catholicism. The Orthodox Church has no pews and the only seating is on perimeter benches reserved for the elderly.     

Inside Orthodox Church, Novi Sad

At this stage we were ‘churched’ out and headed towards the Danube River via a pleasant parkland. On crossing the bridge we could see our intended destination of the city fortress up ahead.

A one kilometre walk brought us to the high promontory overlooking the Danube. The temperature was approaching 30°C and the steep walk to the fortress was quite demanding in the oppressive heat and humidity. The old buildings to the east of the bridge were clearly of nineteenth century design or older with rough concrete and timber cladding and shingled roofs with some adorned with earth and grass.

Petrovaradin Fortress, Novi Sad,

At the Petrovaradin Fortress we were introduced to our local guide Milos who then took us on a guided tour of the subterranean world of former battles. Construction of the fortress began in the late 1600s and today it remains an important landmark to the city.

Beneath the Fortress buildings is a network of tunnels comprising 21km of interlocking walkways in a three dimensional matrix. This incredible structure was built to defend the city against the Ottoman Turkish invaders.

Section of tunnel, Petrovaradin Fortress, Novi Sad

Although we were only underground for an hour and saw but a mere fraction, we recognised the intricate interconnections between galleries and the means for firing guns and cannon at approaching enemies.

The barracks above ground had facilities for 40 thousand troops and many of these were recruited mercenaries from outside Serbia. An unusual feature of the barracks is the ‘reversed’ clock. The dial atop of this large tower has the minute hand being shorter than the hour hand. The explanation was that boatmen on the Danube way below were more interested in knowing the hour and so this hand was given more prominence.

View from Petrovaradin Fortress, Novi Sad

View from Petrovaradin Fortress, Novi Sad

View from Petrovaradin Fortress, Novi Sad

View from Petrovaradin Fortress, Novi Sad

Reversed hands clock, Novi Sad

Reversed hands clock, Novi Sad

At the conclusion of this unusual and dark experience we gathered at a nearby café/bar for some cold drinks prior to heading back to the city 80m below.

After a snack and some coffee we caught taxis to Novi Sad railway station and boarded a train to take us on the 90 minute trip to our next destination, namely Belgrade. Belgrade the capital of Serbia (and formerly the capital of Yugoslavia) will be our location for the next two days.      

Group, Novi Sad Railway Station

Group, Novi Sad Railway Station

On arrival at the Glavna Railway station in Belgrade our first impression was that there was a general level of poverty as shown by the state of repair of many of the buildings. Clearly there are extensive problems with graffiti on walls, buildings and train carriages. This may have been a consequence of the region around the railway station as these problems seemed less apparent in the streets around our hotel (Hotel Slavija).

After a shower and freshening up we walked to the nearby Saint Sava Orthodox Temple. This very large church has yet to be completed internally but the size of the external structure makes it the biggest Orthodox Church in the world so we were informed.

St Sava Orthodox Temple, Belgrade

St Sava Orthodox Temple at night, Belgrade

Inside St Sava Orthodox Temple, Belgrade

Inside St Sava Orthodox Temple, Belgrade

Our group then walked another few hundred metres down a side street to have an evening meal in a popular local restaurant. The meals were excellent and yet the prices surprisingly cheap. For example our main course meal of meats (pork, lamb and kebabs) plus vegetables cost about AU$10 each. Cans of beer bought in the local supermarket were less than AU$1.

Tomorrow we explore this big city in earnest and if this hot weather continues there will be a severe need for cold drinks at the end of the day.


The glorious weather persists and we were on the road by 09:00 for a guided walking tour of ‘Downtown’ Belgrade.

Our first stop was at Saint Marks Church, an Orthodox church quite close to our hotel. A part of the interior was in the process of being refurbished and on the open floor covering an area of around 25 square metres were sections of glass mosaics. These sections were somewhat like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that were being progressively carried by workmen up to a super-high scaffold to line the upper dome of the church with a representation of St. Mark. In the corner of the church was the tomb of Tsar Dushan the Powerful (1308 – 1355).

St Marks Orthodox church, Belgrade

St Marks Orthodox church inside, Belgrade

The next viewpoint on our travels was at the National Assembly (Parliament) where in front of the impressive green domed building were two bronze statues of men carrying horses; supposedly a symbolic representation of Serbian ‘people power’. On the opposite side of the square were the City Assembly Building and the Presidential Palace.

We walked further westwards and came to a small square where we encountered the National Museum and its close neighbour the National Theatre.

National Museum, Belgrade

National Museum plaque with 4 'C's

National Museum statue, Belgrade

National Museum statue, Belgrade

Apparently the theatre features concerts, opera, plays and ballet where the cost of attendance is heavily subsidised to encourage Serbians to attend. We were told that a typical concert ticket for a Serbian may be as little as two Euros. Foreign visitors do not get such generosity!

We then made our way to the Dorcol district of Belgrade which is famous as the formerly Bohemian region and now is the night spot called Skadarlija where the restaurants are famous for the late night revelry. A giant brick chimney is the sole remaining relic from the first brewery in Belgrade. In this old part of the town taxes were levied on home owners in accordance with the number of windows you had that faced onto the front street. Poorer people had to board their windows to reduce costs!

A nearby street district is referred to by Belgradians as ‘Silicon Valley’. This has nothing to do with technology per se but more to do with silicone breast implants which are readily available through cosmetic surgery in this part of town.

Skadarlija area, Belgrade

Restaurant in Skadarlija area where we had dinner

During World War II a significant amount of damage was done to the buildings in this district by German bombing. We were shown one building that did survive this destruction and is reputedly the oldest building in Belgrade.

Brewery chimney, Skadarlija area

Original building, Belgrade

The nearby Bajrakli Mosque has an interesting history having been built by the Ottoman Turks and later ‘reconstructed’ by the Austro-Hungarians as a Catholic Church only to be reconverted to be a mosque in more recent times. The original minaret still remains.

Our furthest destination from our hotel was about 3km west and at the Belgrade or Kalemegdan Fortress. This consists of a walled (mini) city enclosing a pavilion, a zoo, the Ruzica Church, the Military Museum and the Fortress.

Kalemegdan Fortress, Belgrade

Kalemegdan Fortress, Belgrade

View from Kalemegdan Fortress, Belgrade

The view from the high wall is down to the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers and across to the district known as New Belgrade. The Stari suspension bridge across the Sava River is a most impressive structure of civil engineering with the shiny supporting cables giving it the appearance of a gigantic harp. Tourist boats catering for sight-seeing or acting as floating bars and restaurants abound on the Sava.

On the banks of the Danube just below the confluence is a very large indoor stadium dedicated to tennis and its coaching. The new building was significantly financed by Novak Djokovic who is not only presently number one in the world of men’s tennis but an absolute hero in Serbia. 

During a leisurely stroll back through the Knez Mihailova pedestrian mall we stopped for cool drinks sampling the local/domestic beers. In the mall was a trig point where we checked our GPS units for their accuracy versus the accepted longitude and latitude. They were spot-on but the altitude was significantly out. In addition it gave the accepted acceleration due to gravity at that point, it being 9.8060226 m s-2 (down).

We then diverted to the Nikola Tesla Museum. This museum founded in 1952 is dedicated entirely to the ingenious Serbian inventor Nikolas Tesla (1856 – 1943). Tesla is credited with many inventions principally to do with electromagnetic induction and the use of A.C. in the design of electric motors and related systems. At his death he was the holder of 30 very significant patents and he contested many of his ideas with Thomas Edison, a man who felt that A.C. had no great practical applications. Tesla was supported in the development of his inventions by the financier J.P. Morgan as well as George Westinghouse, the founder of the home appliance company.

Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrade

Nikola Tesla Museum - coil discharge

Nikola Tesla Museum

Nikola Tesla Museum

In the evening our group returned for dinner in the Bohemian quarter and enjoyed (although didn’t finish) massive meals whilst being entertained by local Serbian musicians. The special local drink is a highly alcoholic plum brandy very much like slivovitz.

We then caught a bus back to our hotel and before heading for bed did some final preparations for tomorrow’s long bus trip when we leave Serbia and enter Bosnia with our destination being Sarajevo.   



Today was a day principally of bus travel with us leaving Belgrade in the morning and arriving at Sarajevo late in the afternoon.

Our bus is only just big enough for our group of sixteen plus our guide although the size limitation is partially overcome by the bus having an attached rear luggage compartment.

We left Belgrade at 09:30 and travelled south westwards towards the border with Bosnia Herzegovina passing through flatlands where corn and sunflowers were still the main agricultural production crop.

Farm en route to Bosnia

Farm en route to Bosnia

Mill en route to Bosnia

Mill en route to Bosnia

We reached the border crossing at the small town of Sepak on the Trina River which flows into the Sava River which in turn flows ultimately into the Danube.

Trina River at Serbia Bosnia border

Bosnian side of border from Trina Bridge

Bosnian side of border from Trina Bridge

The Serbian customs officials collected and checked passports on the eastern side of the river and then we drove across the Trina Bridge to the Bosnian customs people who were very slow in processing our travel documents.

Eventually we were on our way heading for Sarajevo some four hours away. The route we took involved a steep climb through dense forests with occasional areas where small farms with sheep and a few cattle were sighted.

Haystacks en route to Sarajevo, Bosnia

Haystacks en route to Sarajevo, Bosnia

Scenery en route to Sarajevo, Bosnia

Scenery en route to Sarajevo, Bosnia

Scenery en route to Sarajevo, Bosnia

Scenery en route to Sarajevo, Bosnia

Scenery en route to Sarajevo, Bosnia

Scenery en route to Sarajevo, Bosnia

The number of sawmills and log hauling vehicles we saw was amazing and led us to believe that the forestry operations here may not be sustainable for much longer.

At the highest point on the road we stopped for some lunchtime snacks and coffees and to ponder the significant number of dangerous driving practices we’d observed on the steep and winding road. Overtaking on blind corners seems to be a standard risk taking procedure.

Our bus at Pogleg Restaurant, en route to Sarajevo, Bosnia

Our bus at Pogleg Restaurant, en route to Sarajevo, Bosnia

Farm en route to Sarajevo, Bosnia

Farm en route to Sarajevo, Bosnia

As we commenced our descent the rain started and we had an impressive thunderstorm that lasted all the way to Sarajevo. At Sarajevo the road outside our hotel was awash and small waterfalls were cascading in the roadside gutters.

Within half an hour it was clear again and having rested adequately, our group reassembled and we walked one kilometre down the hill to Bascarsija Square with its central fountain.

We then had an excellent meal in a small side street café although the fact that other people were smoking at a nearby table was not appreciated.

Meal, Sarajevo, Bosnia

Meal, Sarajevo, Bosnia

Tomorrow we explore this famous cobblestoned city where sadly war has played a tragic and recent role. On a brighter note it was the scene of the Winter Olympics in 1984.     



It’s impossible to be a tourist in Sarajevo without the reminders of the recent Bosnian War being so frighteningly visible. We were given a very comprehensive commentary on the Balkans War by a local guide and it’s fair to say that the complexity of the ethnic and religious divisions amongst the former Yugoslavian nations is hard to fathom and the causes of the war vary depending upon the country you’re in.  Needless to say the 1992-1995 Bosnian War was fought because Serbs and Croats living in Bosnia wanted to annex Bosnian territory for Serbia and Croatia respectively. An underlying factor was that Bosnia Herzegovina is largely a Muslim country whereas Croatia is predominantly Catholic and Serbs are mainly Orthodox Christians.

During the war the Bosnian Serbs through the support of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic held the city of Sarajevo under siege and on-going aggression included bombing and shooting for four years. According to the demographic survey after the war it is estimated that 25 600 Bosniak civilians died and 42 500 Bosniak military personnel were killed during the conflict. The Bosnian Serbs suffered a total of 23 000 deaths.

During the siege the Saravejo city was effectively isolated from an external food supply and to overcome this issue they built a tunnel under the NATO operated Saravejo airport runway. This 800m long tunnel now referred to as the ‘Tunnel of Hope’ was the lifeline for the city and allowed the movement of supplies into the sieged city. We spent several hours visiting the western end of the tunnel and we had the opportunity of walking through a small section. It was quite narrow and not high enough to stand upright. Apart from being under continual attack from snipers, the Bosniaks had additional difficulties with keeping the tunnel adequately aerated and sufficiently dry for safe movement.

House of the Kolar family, Tunnel of Hope, Sarajevo

Tunnel of Hope, Sarajevo, Bosnia

After this very distressing exposure to the outcomes of the civil war we drove to Trebevic Mountain, the high southern point overlooking the city. The panoramic view was expansive and impressive with the Miljacka River being the central focal point of the valley below. With parking spaces being severely limited at the mountaintop our driver could not turn the bus around. Instead he reversed the bus at breakneck speed for several hundred metres down the narrow road to a point where he could turn! We attribute the exceptional driving skills of the Bosnians to their need to dodge enemy fire during the war.

View of Sarajevo from Trebevic Mountain

Group photo, Trebevic Mountain

Apart from the view, visitors venture to the mountain to see the Olympic bobsled and luge track or more correctly what remains of them.

Bobsleigh track, Trebevic Mountain

Bobsleigh track, Trebevic Mountain

These were damaged by bombing in 1992 during the civil war and sections of the associated Olympic buildings were used as bunkers. We walked down about 300m of the bobsleigh track which is now decorated with graffiti mostly proclaiming peace messages. The banking on the corners is such that the bobsledss travel at right angles to the horizontal and apparently reached speeds of just under 150 km/h. There is talk of the tracks being renovated but finance seems to be the present stumbling block. We were also advised not to venture off the track as there are still live mines in the surrounding shrubbery.

On our way back down the mountain we stopped at a Jewish cemetery where there was a high degree of damage apparent with many of the tombstones smashed or at least damaged by gunfire. This occurred during the civil war when the Bosnian Serbs who were bunkered within the cemetery engaged in crossfire with the Bosniak nationalists.

Jewish cemetery - old area, Sarajevo

Jewish cemetery, Sarajevo

Once back down in the city centre we had a lunch break before participating in a city walking tour around the old part of Sarajevo. We started at the Bascarsija fountain at the heart of old Saravejo. The building of the fountain commenced in 1462 and was further added to in the mid 16th century. 

Bascarsija fountain, Sarajevo

Market area, Sarajevo

The narrow pedestrian streets in amongst the mosques are filled with little shops mostly selling silverware mugs, jugs, spoons, bracelets, ear-rings and similar touristy items. In some of the shop fronts the local artisans were demonstrating their crafts.

Another prominent building in the centre is the City Hall (Vijenica). The original building was constructed in 1896 in pseudo-Moorish architectural style and served as the seat of government until the end of World War II when it became the National Library. During the civil war in 1992 it was bombed and burnt by the Bosnian Serbs leading to the destruction of countless thousands of priceless volumes of ancient historical documents. After nearly twenty years of reconstruction/renovation the building was reopened in May 2014.

City Hall (Vijenica), Sarajevo

The Brewery, Sarajevo

The Sarajevska Pivara brewery building was a point of interest on the riverbank and surprisingly survived the war with minimal damage.

A few hundred metres along the river we passed the Emperor’s Mosque and then arrived at the 16th century built Latin Bridge.

Latin Bridge, Sarajevo

Latin Bridge, Sarajevo

The Latin Bridge acquired fame in 1914 as it was here that a young Bosnian Nationalist Gavrilo Princip assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophia. This triggered the start of World War I. An earlier attempt to kill the archduke on the same day by another nationalist failed and subsequently this would-be assassin tried to commit suicide by initially consuming poison and then jumping off the bridge into the (shallow) river. Both attempts failed and the youth was caught and arrested. Being under 20 he was not subject to adult laws and was later released.

The Ashkenazi Synagogue is an imposing structure on the southern bank of the Miljacka River. It was built in 1902 in the then popular pseudo-Moorish style and is the third largest synagogue in Europe.

Orthodox Church, Sarajevo

Opera, Sarajevo

Men playing chess, Sarajevo

We then wandered back past the Sarajevo Opera building which shows, as do many buildings, the pock marks of bullet holes marring its beauty. The Holy Synod Orthodox Church is nearby fronting onto a small parkland area where briefly we watched men playing chess on a 4m x 4m board. The loser walked off in a huff and the spectators (all male) were clearly pleased by his defeat.

In this park is the Statue of Rebirth; a naked male within a spherical framework. Apparently Moslem women objected to his unclad body so someone put on him a pair of red underpants and he then became affectionately known by the local as ‘Superman’. The underpants have since been removed and his nakedness is now embellished with a red left testicle!

On the way home we passed the Gazi Husrev Bey’s Mosque which is the most important Islamic house of worship in Bosnia Herzegovina. It was constructed in 1531 and was part of the bequest to the city of Gazi Husrev Bey, the Ottoman ruler of Bosnia.

At this stage of the day having walked many, many kilometres we were ready for some refreshments back at our hotel. Vodkas and beers were the order of the day and after a brief rest we all headed back down the one kilometre to the old city for a meal complemented with some quite reasonable red and white wines.

Tomorrow we leave in the mid-afternoon for the town of Mostar which is famous for, amongst other things, its reconstructed Ottoman-style bridge.



The 05:56 “Call to Prayer” amplified from the nearby mosque’s minaret had us awake and ready a little earlier than usual.

The plan was to have a free morning wandering in Sarajevo or doing whatever took your fancy. Some younger members of our group slept for most of the morning as a consequence of last night’s revelry which apparently didn’t finish till 04:30 for some! 

The ‘oldies’ in the group headed back down the 1km of road and found a caravanserai off one of the touristy alleyways. Caravanserais were stop-over places on the Silk Road for camel trains where beds and food for all could be found in remote locations away from the bigger cities.

Caravanserais, Sarajevo

Turkish tea & coffee at caravanserais, Sarajevo

This caravanserai had a bazaar selling rugs, carpets, lamps and silk scarves plus other brass and silver trinkets. Upstairs was an art exhibition of Bosnian and Herzegovinian calligraphy. We rested and enjoyed Turkish coffees of a very high concentration in the courtyard.

We then returned to the artisans’ walkway in the old part of Sarajevo and purchased wooden recorders and ear-rings.

Souvenirs at market, Sarajevo

Souvenirs at market, Sarajevo

Our travel plans for leaving Sarajevo were put on hold when our bus had an electrical problem involving a blown fuse affecting the air-conditioning and we couldn’t leave until this was rectified.

The three hour drive to Mostar was through spectacular countryside with high mountains, deep river valleys and lakes to be seen for most of the way.

Scenery, Sarajevo to Mostar

Scenery, Sarajevo to Mostar

The grey craggy peaks we skirted around near Konjic were reminiscent of the Dolomites in Northern Italy and then as we descended we began to follow the Neretva River which flows through the centre of our destination town of Mostar.

We arrived in Mostar at around 17:30 and after a quick shower we headed down into the old city of Mostar, a walk of some twenty minutes away.

The road to the old city had several reminders of the Balkans War with bombed out buildings and scenes of destruction aplenty.

Damaged building, Mostar

Damaged building, Mostar

The old town is absolutely beautiful with 17th century architecture still surviving although the ancient Ottoman bridge needed partial reconstruction after it was bombed by the JRA (Yugoslav Republican Army) and the Bosnian Serbs.

Ottoman Bridge, Mostar

Ottoman Bridge, Mostar

View from Ottoman Bridge, Mostar

View from Ottoman Bridge, Mostar

We adjourned for a meal in a restaurant near the old bridge. The meals were again huge and so we shared a main course which still provided far more then we needed and for a mere €10.3. This area around Mostar has numerous vineyards and is well regarded for its wines. Even in sampling the ‘house’ wines with our meals we were pleasantly surprised at their quality.

Grapes at restaurant 001, Mostar

Souvenir stall, Mostar

Mostarsho beer, Mostar

Tomorrow morning we have free time to explore this ancient and beautiful city whose history has been blighted by the barbaric atrocities of recent times.    



Our plans had to be quickly altered when we awoke to find it raining quite heavily; this being the first real rain we’d experienced since arriving in Europe.

We waited until nearly 10:00 and the rain abated so we gathered our things and walked the thirty minutes to the old city.

Along the Adema Buca road there were several building still in a state of disrepair as a result of the civil war. Sections of these buildings had been blown apart and other areas showed mortar damage.

Damaged building, Mostar, Bosnia

City Hall, Mostar, Bosnia

The cobblestone walkway down to the Stari Most (Old Bridge) was very slippery and we walked with caution through the narrow street.

When we arrived at the Stari Most we were surprised to find the bridge devoid of humans; not like last night when it was packed with activity. The old Ottoman high-arched bridge was built in 1566 but was severely damaged by Bosnian Serbs and the JRS troops in the 1992-95 war. The reconstruction was achieved through grants from the USA and the UN amongst others and the bridge today now has UN Heritage status.

Gate to Stari Most (Old Bridge), Mostar, Bosnia

With the weather now quite warm, sunny and humid we then climbed to the top of the tall minaret at the Koski Mehmed-Pasina’s mosque. This afforded us a superb view overlooking the old town and especially the famous bridge and the river. The Neretva River was fast flowing and the sections of cascades and rapids made us think of the tourist potential for ‘white-water’ rafting trips through the old township! Whilst at the top of the minaret, we noticed activity on the bridge and witnessed a diver plunging the 30m into the river below. There are about 100 divers in a club who are allowed to dive and will oblige for a fee.

View from top of minaret, Mostar, Bosnia

Stari Most (Old Bridge) from top of minaret, Mostar,

Stari Most (Old Bridge) with diver in water, Mostar, Bosnia

Stairs in minaret Mostar, Bosnia

As time was limited we had to head back to our hotel and prepare for our departure at mid-day for Montenegro. We had sufficient time grab a quick coffee and to do some sight-seeing on the way back to our hotel.

Our five hour bus trip to Kotor in Montenegro was initially through small farming properties many with dwarf lavender plantations of seldom more than half a hectare. Later we entered mountainous country with high ragged peaks and steep valleys. For the path to the border with Montenegro (MNE) we took minor roads through Ribari and Gacko after which we crossed the border leaving BiH and entering MNE. The officials at the border were quite efficient and even though our passports were stamped accordingly, nobody bothers to check that the ID photos corresponded to those holding the passports.

The road we followed by-passed the capital of Montenegro (Podgorica) and then headed westwards to the Adriatic coast. We drove through many short tunnels and eventually we reached a high point with a spectacular view overlooking the Adriatic Sea. After a photo stop we descended a steep and winding road to reach the sea and we then followed to coast through sea-side villages until we arrived at Kotor which is the tourist centre for Montenegro on the Adriatic.

View over Kotor harbour, Montenegro

Mussel farm, Kotor, Montenegro

We checked into our Hotel Marija which is situated within the old town inside the city wall.

Group gathering outsife Hotel Majira (our room is the one with the balcony), Kotor, Montenegro

We had a one hour walking tour to familiarise ourselves with this ancient town and then after a seafood meal headed back to our hotel where our second floor bedroom has a balcony that overlooks the courtyard in front of the Orthodox Church close by.

West (Sea) Gate, Old City, Kotor, Montenegro

Guduric (South) Gate, Old City, Kotor, Montenegro

Guduric (South) Gate (from inside city wall), Old City, Kotor, Montenegro

Tomorrow we are going kayaking on the bay in front and in the afternoon there is a chance to climb the more than a thousand steps to the high fortress on the mountain behind!


After breakfast we contacted Marcus, Jacquie and Max on FaceTime and were pleased to hear that all was well in the Southern Hemisphere.

At 09:00 we walked along the waterfront of Kotor past the cruise ships and their several thousand passengers who’d just arrived in town. Our stopping point was at the beach where our kayaking trip was to commence.

We had two guides who were very tall, strong and super fit looking young men who quickly had us organised into our double kayaks although Chris being a highly experienced ‘paddler’ was the only single kayak in our group of seventeen.

Group kayaking, Kotor, Montenegro

Scenery from kayak, Kotor, Montenegro

We spent a very pleasant hour or so paddling along the coast and then crossed to the other shore where we stopped for coffees and a swim. The crystal clear water was around 18°C we guessed and most of our group ventured in and stayed in for about half an hour.

Kayaks on beach, Kotor, Montenegro

Group swimming, Kotor, Montenegro

Group swimming, Kotor, Montenegro

We then kayaked further along the shore across from Kotor to a turn around point that was originally an old fishing village dating back to the 16th century.

Jak & Corinne kayaking, Kotor, Montenegro

Scenery from kayak, Kotor, Montenegro

Group kayaking, Kotor, Montenegro

Old house from kayak, Kotor, Montenegro

High on the hill behind are the remains of a small church built by settlers to this area in the 12th century. The nine hundred year old church looked in a remarkably good state considering its age. The building of houses higher up the hillside was to give more warning and protection from Turkish sailors and other potential pirates. In the meantime a third (large) cruise ship arrived in the harbour.

In perfect conditions of sunshine and a glassy sea in breathless conditions we headed the three kilometres back to our starting point on the beach near the city wall of Kotor.

We showered and washed out our salty clothes and then with the great fortune of WiFi we contacted friends back in Australia and elsewhere.

After a lunchtime snack and some cool liquid refreshments we decided to start the walk up to the mountain fortress.

The steep path up the hillside has 1353 steps and the rise in altitude is just about 290m. After passing the little Church of Our Lady of Remedy (most appropriate) we stopped at the half way mark on the way up for a cool drink. The final section of climb follows the 16th century fortress high stone wall which was built along the knife-edge sharp escarpment past the Kontarini Tower, through a small stone fort and eventually to reach the Illyrian Fort of St. John. The climb took us just on half an hour but it was made easier by the stone steps being ‘just right’ for comfortable climbing.  

View of old city from fortress walk, Kotor, Montenegro

Jak & Corinne at top, fortress walk, Kotor, Montenegro

At the top was a fantastic panoramic view across the city and harbour with the steep stairway that we’d climbed being a zigzag path on the cliffs below. The walled ‘old city’ of Kotor was seen from above as a tightly packed collection of ancient orange-tiled houses in amongst the steeples and golden domes of churches.

Fortress walk, Kotor, Montenegro

Fortress walk, Kotor, Montenegro

When viewed using a multiple magnification of the image, our photo of the city taken at the very top of the fortress mountain enabled us to identify our hotel and its balcony together with our clothes hanging outside to dry (just like the locals do).

We descended and needed to have cool showers after this mid-afternoon exertion in warm to hot conditions.

In the evening we had a first-class and comparatively cheap meal at our own Hotel Marija on the terrace in front of the main entrance.

Tomorrow we have the morning to relax and do more exploring of this historical city before heading off for Dubrovnik in Croatia; the start of another adventure in this fascinating and extraordinarily beautiful part of the world.


During the night there was very heavy rain and we experienced an impressive thunderstorm with cacophonous bangs sufficient to rattle our hotel building. At breakfast we discussed sightseeing plans in light of the possibility of further rain.

It was decided to do a stroll around the high city wall starting at the Kampana Tower and Citadel. On reaching the wall top we were amazed to see a massive cruise ship docked just across the road. The vessel had a hundred cabins along the port side at each of seven levels. One assumes that there was the same on the starboard side plus many more within the middle.

Archway, Kotor, Montenegro

Altar inside church, Kotor, Montenegro

Our walk terminated at the Bembo Bastian close to the point where we had our evening meal two night’s ago.

As the rain started we headed for the maritime museum and spent the next hour exploring the three floors of exhibits. The museum had a diverse collection of displays with the more interesting ones being the models of ships, the collection of navigation equipment, marine artillery and many large oil paintings depicting famous naval battles and their commanders.

Maritime Museum, Kotor, Montenegro

Artefacts, Maritime Museum, Kotor, Montenegro

At 11:00 in partial sunshine we checked out of our hotel and boarded our bus for the four-hour trip to Dubrovnik in Croatia.

Our driver Petja had heard from his colleagues that there was around about a two hour delay at the Montenegro/Croatia border at the main highway border crossing so he cunningly took a minor road where there was no delay at all. This minor border control point is not supposed to have access for buses but Petja gave the customs people some bottles of fruit juice and they let us through without question.

As we approached Dubrovnik we stopped at a lookout point over-looking the famous city below. The sight was very impressive with the busy harbour, the nearby islands and the ancient part of the city surrounded by its high wall.

View of Dubrovnik old town, Croatia

After checking into out hotel, which was three kilometres from the old city, we boarded a bus and headed into central Dubrovnik.

The scene in the centre was chaotic with thousands of tourists all milling around, some with umbrellas still up although it wasn’t raining and others pushing and shoving in a desire to get to their tourist destination.  

Orlando's Column, Dubrovnik old town, Croatia

Tower, Dubrovnik old town, Croatia

Rector's Palace, Dubrovnik old town, Croatia

City Wall, Dubrovnik old town, Croatia

We eventually reached a less crowded area inside the city wall and visited an ATM and then purchased a ‘Dubrovnik Day Pass’ which we’ll use tomorrow. After an orientation walk within the city wall for an hour we adjourned for some (quite expensive) beers and observed the crowd which was still at very high density levels as the cruise ships don’t normally depart until around 18:00.

We then had a pleasant evening meal before returning to our hotel to plan for tomorrow’s early visit in order to avoid the huge crowds!



After an early breakfast we were on the local bus at 08:00 and heading down into Dubrovnik’s old town which is three kilometres from our Ivka hotel.

Even at this early hour we were surprised to see how much the crowd was building up at the main Pile Gate with several large tourist buses arriving just as we did.

With our Dubrovnik Card in hand we decided that our first venture into this tourist jungle was to do the walk on the city wall.

The walls surround the entire old town and extend on an approximately rectangular path for just under two kilometres. At their highest point they are 25m high and there are wall sections that are 12m thick. Along the way around the wall we passed five fortresses and about twenty towers. The construction of the walls commenced in the 8th century and continued on more or less continuously until the 16th century. Restoration continues even nowadays particularly as there was much damage caused by mortar and shelling attacks during the war with Serbia in 1991-1992. The walk around the wall took us about two hours and with a blue sky and sunny conditions the old town with its picturesque monuments, orange tiled rooftops, bell towers, fountains and forty eight churches looked like a picture postcard. The view out to sea across the blue, crystal clear Adriatic waters to the distant islands was equally impressive.

View from town wall, Dubrovnik old town

View from town wall, Dubrovnik old town

View from town wall, Dubrovnik old town

Belltower from town wall, Dubrovnik old town

Great fountain, Dubrovnik old town

View from town wall, Dubrovnik old town

Once back down in the main town street our intention was to stroll at a leisurely pace along the 300m thoroughfare called the Stradun starting at the Pile Gate.

The Pile Gate dates back to 1471 and is approached from outside the walls across a wooden drawbridge which is no longer lifted at night time. Set into a niche here in the stone arch above the gate is a statue of St. Blaise, the city’s patron saint.

The Stradun is paved in marble which was very slippery when we were here last night after the rain-storm. Apparently the Stradun was originally a marshy channel which separated the Roman settlement of Ragusa on one side from the Slavic settlement of Dubrovnik on the other. At the Pile Gate end of the Stradun is the Great Fountain which was completed by the Neapolitan architect Onofrio della Cava in 1444 as part of the city’s plumbing. Unfortunately much of the upper domed and highly ornamental section was destroyed by the Great Earthquake of 1667.

Near the steps up to the wall is the tiny Church of Our Saviour, built in 1528. Its architects and builders the Andrijic brothers made the foundations and structure particularly sturdy because there had been an earthquake in 1520 and consequently it survived the massive quake of 1667. The Renaissance façade and elegant rose window are most attractive and yet simple in their design.

Just a few steps further down the Stradun is the Franciscan Monastery and Museum. The Monastery door is crowned by a pieta which was the only part that survived the earthquake of 1667. This earthquake started a fire that gutted the building and countless treasures were lost forever. It was rebuilt in the 18th century.

Cloister & old pharmacy, Dubrovnik old town

Old pharmacy, Dubrovnik old town

As part of the Monastery there is the famous ancient pharmacy self-proclaimed as the ‘oldest in the world’. It was established in 1317 and all that remains now are some ancient pharmacopoeias, medical equipment and religious artefacts. There is also a portrait of Ruder Boskovic who was a famous mathematical genius from Dubrovnik. The courtyard of the pharmacy is surrounded by cloisters with rows of double octagonal columns surmounted with intricate and individualised capitals.

Towards the end of the Stradun we passed Orlando’s Column and the Church of St. Blaise. At this corner is the impressive Clock Tower and a walkway that took us outside the wall and into the Old Port and harbour precinct. This was a hive of activity with tourist boats, glass-bottomed boats and even a semi-submersible submarine offering tourists the opportunity of seeing the pristine and crystal clear waters of the Adriatic. We were so impressed with the water clarity and ocean calmness that the thought of a dive was on our minds but not possible for obvious reasons of time constraints.

We found our way around the harbour’s edge to an entrance that led us up to the Maritime Museum where we spent a very enjoyable, interesting and highly informative hour in the two storey facility. There was much to see and read but amongst the information was the key feature of Dubrovnik being a major trading hub for the Adriatic over the past millennium. There were many sailor portraits, paintings of ships, ship models and photographs. Undoubtedly the most striking photographs were of the harbour during the war against the Serb and Yugoslav armies in1991-92 showing boats burning and some vessels partially sunk!

Almost by chance our meanderings in the back streets of the old town brought us to the Natural History Museum which we had intended to find later on. We were the only visitors in the three storey museum which had a near total focus on marine natural history. There were separate rooms dedicated to gastropods, cephalopods and fish plus a display of underwater photography by Dalibor Andres. His gallery of mostly macro-photographs of nudibranchs,  tropical fish and corals was truly first-class. A section nearby was dedicated to rare and endangered molluscs within the Adriatic. Amongst the very rare gastropods were three cypraea (cowries).

Venus flower basket (Euplectella aspergillum), Natural History Museum, Dubrovnik old town

Another highly interesting display was dedicated to the incredible sponge called a Venus flower basket (Euplectella aspergillum). Little is known about this animal that has been trawled from stony bottoms at depths around 500m near the Philippines and also in the western Pacific. Its internal structure is made of siliceous spicules built up in a very fine cylindrical grid of intricate beauty. When first exhibited in Europe it was thought by some marine scientists to be a hoax, claiming that the creature was actually the product of Japanese craftsmen.

At this point in our travels we were back near the Jesuit Church with its steps leading down to the open restaurant area below. Unbeknown to us, apparently this site featured prominently in a popular TV series called “Game of Thrones”. We were also informed that some parts of “Star Wars” were filmed here too.

We were now reaching the point of being over-exposed to museums and tourist crowds so we caught the local bus back to our hotel and bought some snacks at a nearby bakery to take back to our room.

In the late afternoon a group of us wandered up the hill from our hotel and had pizzas and some of the local Dubrovnik beer. This was a pleasant way to finish a day where we’d encountered crowds that were initially quite small but had built up during the day to resemble grand final day at the MCG.

Tomorrow we have no commitments until 16:00 when we catch a high speed ferry to Hvar Island some hundred kilometres or so northwest of Dubrovnik.



As we had free time until mid-afternoon, a group of us decided to avoid the Old City and instead to do a walk around the western coastal suburb of Babin kuk. We left our hotel and ventured down to the harbour at Batala where major works are presently being undertaken in the building of a new marina.

We had a quick peek at a monastery garden featuring a colonnade of ancient marble pillars. Further along the coast the road terminated at the Orsan Yacht Club and from there on we were on a walking track right on the water’s edge.

Docked directly across from us at Port Gruz were two large cruise ships and slightly further north was the very impressive Dr. Franje Tudmana suspension bridge.

Harbour at Batala, Dubrovnik

Dr. Franje Tudmana suspension bridge, Dubrovnik

Dr. Franje Tudmana suspension bridge, Dubrovnik

On the northern coast of the Babin kuk peninsula were three or four small rocky beaches where bathers were enjoying the sunny conditions and the crystal clear waters. There was a scuba dive shop operating on the shore at Solitudo but when we went into the shop there was no one to be seen. There was however equipment set up as if a practical class was about to begin.

Foreshore, Dubrovnik

Copacabana Beach, Dubrovnik

Looking out to sea we could see numerous islands and on the western headland were the remains of an ancient fort called the Lapad Battery formerly protecting the entrance to Dubrovnik Harbour.

Lapad Battery, Dubrovnik

Lapad Battery, Dubrovnik

Uvala Lapad Bay, Dubrovnik

After about three kilometres of strolling along the shore we stopped at a restaurant for cold drinks and some food. The walk back to our hotel had us following a high road overlooking Uvala Lapad Bay and the many luxurious homes that crowd the shore in this area.

At 15:00 our G Adventures group was transferred by taxis to the ferry terminal at Port Gruz.

A huge queue had formed waiting for the boarding of passengers. Loading eventually occurred and we departed right on 16:00. This was farewell to Dubrovnik, a truly beautiful city despite the excessive tourist numbers. Dubrovnik was very aptly described by Lord Byron as “the pearl of the Adriatic”.

Our catamaran ferry the Kapetan Luka travelled at about 20 knots and was jam packed with over 600 passengers.

Kapetan Luka ferry, Port Gruz, Dubrovnik


The path followed by the boat was in amongst islands with the first stop being at Mljet and then on to the channel between Korcula and Peljesac Islands. We stopped briefly at Korcula port and then headed north westwards to arrive at 19:25 at the town of Hvar on Hvar Island.

Our bags were conveniently transported up the hill to our Pharos Hotel by a maxi taxi whilst we did the fifteen minute walk up from the old town.

In the semi dark the town looked very interesting with many attractive buildings centred around the city square and along the harbour.

Out hotel is very modern although our evening meal was very disappointing and far from cheap.

Tomorrow we are to spend the day visiting nearby islands for a relaxing day of swimming and resting. 



If Dubrovnik is the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’ then Hvar certainly has claim to be the ‘Sparkling Jewel in Croatia’s crown’. It has an elegant 16th century Venetian capital, beautiful adjacent islands, plenty of beaches and supposedly the best weather in the Adriatic. It boasts 2 700 hours of annual sunshine and very few wet days during winter.

The clarity and blue colour of the water, even inside Hvar harbour is astounding and the visibility looking into the dockside depths is quite extraordinary.

Our day’s boat cruise around the Pakleni Islands wasn’t due to start until 11:00 so we had time to wander around central part of Hvar town, billed as one of Dalmatia’s most attractive places.

The harbour, Hvar

Building, Hva

Most of the significant sights are situated close to or around the main square known as Trg Sveti Stjepana. This white marbled piazza is the largest on the Dalmatian coast and runs east-west from the cathedral to the harbour.

In the early 15th century, Hvar became the wealthiest city in Dalmatia then under Venice, as all ships controlled by the republic were required to stop in at the port.  Apart from parts of the city walls all of Hvar today is of late 16th century origin as the Turks razed it to the ground in 1571.

The Cathedral dominates the eastern end of the square with its Renaissance trefoil and campanile with an increasing number of windows on each storey.

Other prominent buildings in the piazza region are the Arsenal, a former naval building featuring a theatre upstairs and the Hectorovic Palace, an unfinished Venetian Gothic building. Behind the Palace is the Benedictine Convent and continuing up the street one sees the impressive Spanjol Fortress overlooking the town.

At 11:00 our group and about forty others boarded the MV ‘Joan’ for a seven-hour visit to the nearby Pakleni Islands which are close by just off the western end of Hvar Island.

The first stop was at a small cove at Mlini Island where we swam in the clear blue waters and then warmed ourselves in the mid-day sun before moving around to Vlaka Island where the boat tied up at a small wharf in Palmizana Bay.

Jak jumping into water, Mlini Island , Pakleni Islands

Boat trip to Pakleni Islands

Mlini Island, Pakleni Islands

Mlini Island, Pakleni Islands

We walked across the narrow headland to the other side of the island where there was a rocky beach and restaurants. We had a swim and some beers and then spent an hour or two just relaxing, sleeping and just enjoying the scenery and the glorious weather.

Vlaka Island

Swimming at Vlaka Island

Our final destination for the day was at Klement Island where the boat tied up very close to the rocky shore and put a footbridge across to the rocks for people to go ashore. Some of us had another swim but most just sat on the warm rocky ledges and chatted.

MV Joan at Klement Island

Group relaxing at Klement Island

We returned to Hvar town at about 18:00 and after showering we had a very nice meal in a waterside restaurant and then headed home after a very pleasant and enjoyable day on the water.

Harbour area, Hvar




With a free morning to ourselves we decided to catch up on some organisational details for the next week or so as today is our last day travelling with the G Adventures group. Tomorrow we head north for our cycling and boating adventure starting at Pula on the Istrian Peninsula.

Our main sight seeing activity in the time remaining was to visit the Hvar Fortress that dominates the skyline to the north of Hvar city. Our enquiries about visiting a lavender farm were met with a ‘wrong time of the year’ type answer.

The climb up the hill from the city square to the fortress took about twenty minute and initially involved steep steps and then a zigzag pathway to the top. On the way up we passed the Benedictine Nunnery and the 17th century Church of St. Anthony the Abbot. A large sundial features on the high wall of the church.

Sundial on 17th century Church of St. Anthony the Abbot, Hvar

Hvar Fortress wall

Building of the fortress commenced in 1278 during the time that Hvar was under Venetian rule. Further construction occurred in 1551 and the fortress then provided refuge for the local population during the Turkish invasion of 1571. Unfortunately sometime later in October 1579 a lightning strike on the gunpowder store caused massive damage to the fortress and parts of the town below it. In the following centuries it underwent repairs and adaptations and at the beginning of the 19th century under Austrian rule barracks were built and the battlements raised.

The view of the city from the fortress makes the walk to the top well worthwhile and gauging from the number of visitors present it is undoubtedly one of the top tourist sites in Hvar. 

View from Hvar Fortress

View from Hvar Fortress

View from Hvar Fortress

Apart from the views from the fortress we went below ground and visited the prison section that was dark and claustrophobic. Ancient artefacts including amphorae were on display in a small museum within the fortress walls.

Jak entering prison, Hvar Fortress

Prison cell, Hvar Fortress

At 13:00 our group plus many others boarded the Karolina ferry for the one-hour trip to Split. The sea was so flat and the wind non-existent that the hundreds of yachts in the Adriatic that we passed were all either becalmed or using engines to make way.

Our hotel in Split was just off the main harbour-side promenade called Riva and after checking in we gathered for a guided tour of the old city.

Split is Croatia’s second largest city with a population of about 200 000. It didn’t suffer like Dubrovnik during the 1990s war but was affected by the influx of many refugees from the conflict.

Split probably came into existence as a result of the Roman Emperor Diocletian deciding to retire here in the year AD305. His palace was built on a grand 170m by 190m ground plan with walls 2m thick and up to 26m high making it the largest private residence in antiquity!

Byzantium, the Ottomans, the Austro-Hungarians, the Venetians and even Napoleon all left their mark on Split and today much of the original Emperor’s Palace is lost to more recent adaptations and the fact that now 300 local people now live inside the walls. There are still some tangible remnants of Roman times such as the marble paved roads, aquifers and some mosaic tiled paths.

We were told the name Split is derived from the Greek for the common yellow broom called ‘aspalatos’ that flowers in the local area. The word metamorphosed to Spalatum, Spalato and Spljet and eventually Split.     

City Square, Split

Within the old city there was much to see including the entrance gates and the squares. The most striking of all was the Peristyle which is an open colonnaded square that formed the heart of Diocletian’s Palace. Diocletian spent his retirement years in Split having Christians captured, tortured and put to death. So many Christians were martyred that Diocletian apparently holds the record for saint creation. His battle against Christianity was eventually lost as two years after his death in AD316 the Milan Edict legitimised the religion and his sarcophagus was destroyed and on the site of his palace was built the tiny Cathedral of St. Domnius. Diocletian’s former mausoleum was built from white stone imported from the island of Brac and surrounding it are columns of pink granite brought in from Egypt; their capitals being Corinthian. Between two of the granite columns is a black and damaged sphinx that dates back to Thutmosis III (1504-1450BC).

Clock Tower, Old City, Split

Gater, Old City, Split

The bell tower (campanile) of the Cathedral is an imposing structure that’s clearly visible from most locations within the old town. On leaving the Peristyle we encountered five local male singers performing traditional madrigal songs in the domed vestibule which gave excellent acoustic effects.

The bell tower (campanile) of the Cathedral, Old City

Old City, Split

Sphinx, Old City, Split

Outside the Golden Gate we came across the huge bronze statue of Grgur Ninski a famous bishop from the 10th century. Touching his big toe is supposed to bring luck and make wishes come true.

Golden Gate, Old City

Original Roman stone pathway, Old City

Our departure from the old city was through an underground vaulted area now set up with souvenir markets leading to the sea gate.

We rested and consumed a cold beer after our informative tour of these ancient structures.

The day concluded with a dinner where farewells were expressed as tomorrow we all head of on our various ways as the group adventure is over. For our smaller group of six, a new adventure is to begin as we head to Istria for our boat and bike tour.



As we were not due to leave Split until 09:30 it meant we had time to wander around the local area after breakfast and observe the activities of the people going about their morning activities. The most interesting scene was in the nearby fish market where activity was frenetic with fishmongers calling out their wares and prices and potential customers comparing fish size, quality and price of each stall. The most common purchase seemed to be small pilchard size fish that were sold by weight with the fish being poured into weighing containers on a scale and then into bags.

Fish Market, Split

Fish Market, Split

There were unusual species on sale too, namely stargazers, scorpionfish, octopus and all types of molluscs including cockles, whelks and gastropods.

Fish Market, Split

Seagulls at Fish Market, Split

Promptly at 09:30 the 'Connecto Transfers' van arrived at our hotel and the two drivers loaded our bags and we were soon underway heading up the Dalmatian Coast for Pula.

We followed the A1 motorway all the way to Zadar passing through countryside with scrubby trees and little in the way of suitable agricultural ground. The road passed through numerous tunnels the longest of which was just over 6km. The maximum speed on the expressway was 130 km/h but many were travelling even faster than that.

Just north of Zadar we transferred to a minor road (D8) that followed the coast much of the way until we reached Senj where we stopped for a coffee break and to stretch our legs as we’d now been travelling for nearly three hours. The scenery at Senj was magic with a sun lit bay full of small fishing boats and a busy fishing harbour with business being less involved with tourism than most places we’d seen recently.

Harbour, Senj

Our path was then through Rijeka and subsequently back onto the expressway down to Pula.

We arrived at around 15:00 and our very friendly drivers dropped us off at our hotel door after which one of them was due to collect passengers and to drive the five hours back to Split!

Pula is mentioned in ancient Greek despatches in connection with Jason and the Argonauts so its history predates Histri settlements in the 1st century BC. Under the first Roman Emperor Augustus it became an important olive and wine-growing region of the Roman Empire.

Much of the afternoon was then spent in the adjacent and enormous Amphitheatre often referred to as the Arena.

This is one of the best preserved and sixth largest Roman amphitheatre in the world. Arena is 133m long and 105m wide and 32m high at its highest point. It could host up to 20 000 spectators and has the most complete outer wall of any Roman amphitheatre in existence today.

Amphitheatre, Pula, Istria

Amphitheatre, Pula, Istria

Most of the seating has long gone and been used for buildings as far away as Venice.

The middle of the arena would have been filled with sand (arena is Latin for sand) and used for bloody combats between gladiators or gladiators and wild animals such as bears and lions that were housed below the arena. Gladiators were usually luckless prisoners of war.

There is a fascinating museum in an underground region beneath the arena where displays of olive oil presses, wine making vats, amphorae and gladiatorial equipment are on display.

After Rome collapsed the amphitheatre was then used as a market place and for medieval jousting competitions. In recent times, Sting as well as the Three Tenors have performed here in the Arena. It also stages the annual Pula Film Festival although the audiences nowadays can’t exceed 6000.

We then wandered along the waterfront and eventually adjourned for some cool drinks by which time we were ready for an evening meal. A nearby pizza house provided us with a suitable meal and a nice bottle of local merlot.

Harbour, Pula, Istria

Tomorrow we join the cycling group and sleep on our boat that will be home for the next seven days.

We're not sure whether we'll have access to WiFi on the boat so there may not be an update for a few days.