Backpacking Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina
Tej Parikh uproots the unique region’s culture and history
Shaped by the ravages of war and conflict, the Western Balkans are emerging through the hardened spirit of its people. Set among a backdrop of undulating mountainsides and concealed coastal ports, a deep-rooted history and diverse culture seeps through the veins of every village and city.
Begin in the nocturnal Serbian capital. Wander the Kalemegdan Citadel fortress before dusk, and gaze at the incandescent bridges traversing the Sava River as it merges with the mighty Danube. Then roam along the pedestrianised Knez Mihailova Street, taking in the mishmash of soviet-style buildings and cafes before dining over traditional Serbian food at the unnamed ‘?’ restaurant – supposedly the oldest restaurant in Belgrade. End the evening bar-hopping in the pulsating ‘Silicon Valley’ (Strahinjica Bana Street), so-called for the silicone attributes of trophy girlfriends accompanying their male counterparts.
The fortified old Montenegrin town of Kotor rests on the shores of southern Europe’s deepest fjord. Lose yourself in the mazy cobbled streets; navigating through narrow alleyways and under low-lying archways. Hike the 1500 steps to the mountains above Kotor to see the bronzed rooftops, piazzas and the St Tryphon Cathedral from a different perspective, as the outer edges of the town reflect in the stillness of the Kotor fjord. Then sample a chilled Nikšićko beer at the fashionable Cesare cafe-cum-bar.
Enter the World Heritage listed old town through the Pile Gate, which opens out into the grand Placa promenade. Visit the baroque St Blaise’s Church and then weave around to the Old Port to watch the tightly-roped fishing boats gently bob under the shadow of the old city walls. Navigate to the northern outer wall, Peline, and then look down through the narrow steep streets carving through the old town, exposing the rose-tiled roofs and St Ignatius Church through its slits. Then rest hypnotised by breaking sea waves crashing in the cove sheltered by the imposing Fort Bokar and Fort Lovrijenac – of Game of Thrones fame.
Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina
First head to the Stari Most; the iconic steeply-arched old bridge, which crosses majestically over the lagoon blue Neretva River. Marvel at Mostar’s story at the Old Bridge Museum, as the town emerges from the rubble of conflict in 1993. Venture across to the cobbled Ottoman quarter, sniffling Bosnian coffee and sampling the local crafts, as the milieu of church crosses and mosques adds to the ambiance. Revel in the dramatic mountain and riverside scenery winding through the Bosnian countryside en-route to Sarajevo, passing through the quaint towns of Jablanica and Konjic on the banks of the Neretva.
Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina
End in ‘Europe’s Jerusalem’. Stroll through the trades shops of Basacarsija bazaar tasting Bosnia’s Turkish heritage; catching a whiff of Bosnian coffee emanating from cafe dens, or ‘Hans’, and taste the prized cevapcici minced meat. Enter the next stage of Sarajevo’s history wandering through large Austro-Hungarian streets through socialist blocks and grandiose buildings like the national library – set among the domineering Gazi-Husrevbey mosque and Catholic Cathedral. Venture closer to the Latin Bridge – stand on history, 100 years on, at the site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a catalyst for WW1. Haggle in the outdoor market, before taking in the sparkling bridged Miljacka River on your way to traditional dining at the Inat Kuca wooden house.
Tej Parikh is a freelance writer specialising in travel and international development. He has written articles for the Guardian, various NGOs and social think-tanks. His travels have taken him to the Middle East, Colombia and the Himalayas, amongst others, and have been inspired by his passion for ‘off the beaten track’ travel, and learning about different cultures. His unique prose is to illuminate conventional thought and societal trends by drawing on his experiences travelling. This is showcased in his blog where he raises debates on issues from Facebook to the economics of happiness.
If you need any more information on the Himalayas just get in touch with Tej via his blog tejparikh90.wordpress.com.