May 5, 2019

14 Days in Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro

14 Days in Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro | {imperfect idealist}

During our two-week Easter break, I jetted off to Eastern Europe for the first time. While I've wanted to go to more "mainstream" destinations for a while, like Portugal and southern Spain, I figured I should hit my less accessible destinations first. After all, Portugal is much closer to the US than Croatia, and sometimes flying from Boston to Portugal is faster than flying from Paris! (especially for the Azores). 

The photos of Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro seemed stunning, so I decided to visit all three countries while I was in the area. They're luckily right next to each other, which made getting around easier. I flew into Zagreb, Croatia from Paris, and ended my trip in Kotor, Montenegro, which made it easy to fly out of Dubrovnik, Croatia (the airport is only 1.5 hours away).

Here's a quick recap of my trip, and a sample itinerary if you're planning to visit these countries as well. 

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14 Days in Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro

1. Zagreb, Croatia (2 nights)

Where to eat: Green Point, a vegan cafe with great juices and breakfast sandwiches. 
What to do: Museum of Broken Relationships, St. Mark's Church
Where to stay: Main Square Hostel (14 euros/night) 

14 Days in Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro | {imperfect idealist}
St. Mark's Church

This is one of the more iconic spots in the city, as the tiled roof is very eye-catching. The church is only open at Mass, so I just came to see the roof.

14 Days in Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro | {imperfect idealist}
Museum of Broken Relationships

A concept I could totally get behind. This museum exhibits objects and short stories from real broken relationships around the world. Some are touching, others disturbing, a couple gross (there was a 27-year-old scab on display!), and all very resonant. The exhibits change regularly, so the museum is always a different experience.

2. Plitvice Lakes, Croatia (1 night)

Where to eat: Poljana, a state-owned restaurant that was surprisingly affordable, and had vegan options!
What to do: hike/walk (no swimming, as it's a UNESCO World Heritage site)
Where to stay: Hotel Bellevue (50+ euros/night, depending on season)

14 Days in Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro | {imperfect idealist}
14 Days in Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro | {imperfect idealist}

Both these photos are from the lower lakes near Entrance 1 of the park, the arguably more impressive part. The water is such a stunning turquoise and the falls are unreal. I started with the upper lakes (the smaller falls, but still charming) and visited the lower lakes on the second day.

3. Split, Croatia (2 nights)

Where to eat: was not particularly impressed by any of the food I ate. Prices also definitely got more expensive here.
What to do: Diocletian's Palace, Marjan Park, Green Market, Bacvice Beach
Where to stay: Cosy Rooms in the Center of Split (24 euros/night); run by the sweetest family

14 Days in Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro | {imperfect idealist}
Diocletian's Palace

The main grounds are free and are well-integrated into the city, so I passed by several times. If you want to visit the underground part, you have to pay (I didn't go, so I can't tell you if it would be worth it).

14 Days in Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro | {imperfect idealist}
Bacvice Beach

This was a lovely place for a freezing dip (apparently it was unseasonably cold for mid-April). I appreciated the step ladders that made getting in and out of the ocean much easier.

4. Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina (2 nights)

Where to eat: Food House, a restaurant off the main pedestrian street with vegan options. The veggie plate is AMAZING and very generous. 
What to do: visit old town, Karađoz Bey mosque (great view of  Stari Most, thefamous bridge), trip to Blagaj Tekija
Where to stay: Full View Apartment (10 euros/night); also run by the sweetest family--the mother kept bringing me complimentary homemade food, and took me on a trip to the iconic Blagaj Tekija!

14 Days in Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro | {imperfect idealist}
Stari Most, view from Karađoz Bey mosque

Stari Most is probably the best-known landmark in Mostar. Adrenaline junkies might take a dip in the river by diving from the bridge, though it's generally seen as an unsafe jump. Locals might ask for donations from tourists before taking the plunge themselves, though. 

14 Days in Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro | {imperfect idealist}
Mostar had an unexpected Turkish influence, hence all the lamps, intricate dishware, and eye-catching tea sets. I really wanted to buy a lamp and tea set, but they were a little too bulky and fragile for my luggage haha. Souvenir shops overrun the old town, so you'll definitely have a ton of options. Word has it that you can try some gentle bargaining with the sellers, though I didn't realize until I left.

5. Dubrovnik, Croatia (2 nights)

Where to eat: I didn't eat out in Dubrovnik
What to do: it was rainy, so I didn't do much; I did hike up Mount Srd, but I don't think it's worth the effort, or the cable car price. People rave about Lokrum (island nearby) and Mlini (fishing town) though. I also really liked eating donuts in Cavtat, a fishing town near the airport. If you're a Game of Thrones fan, there's plenty GOT-themed tours as this is a filming location.
Where to stay: near the main bus station, or closer to the Old Town. I stayed in an Airbnb, but wouldn't recommend it for its location.

14 Days in Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro | {imperfect idealist}
14 Days in Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro | {imperfect idealist}

One of the most striking characteristics of Dubrovnik were the bustling alleyways. I would've loved to stop for a meal in one, though I suppose it's probably a tourist trap...

6. Kotor, Montenegro (3 nights)

Where to eat: Hoste Kotor, a tapas place in the Old Town with veggie options; the owner is happy to accommodate
What to do: hike the city walls, speedboat tour to Our Lady of the Rocks and Blue Cave, day trip to Budva (beach town)
Where to stay: I stayed in an Airbnb, but I'd also recommend staying closer to the Old Town. I was worried about noise, but apparently it quiets down a lot at night (at least in April)

14 Days in Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro | {imperfect idealist}
I would definitely recommend the hike up the city walls, but 8 euros entry is a little pricey. There's apparently a free entrance, so try to find that instead. The views are very worth the climb, and there are cute sunbathing cats along the way.

14 Days in Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro | {imperfect idealist}
What to Know Before You Go:

I got around primarily by bus, though I also caught a ride with other tourists once and took a taxi to and from airports. If you're going in a group, I would recommend renting a car, as the buses can be long and uncomfortable on the winding roads. If you do take the bus, know that you have to pay extra for any luggage stored underneath the bus (around 7 kunas or 1 euro per item).

These countries are on different currencies--Croatia, while a member of the EU, is on the kuna. Bosnia & Herzegovina is on the Bosnian mark, but I got away with using euros in the Old Town, or my card when paying at restaurants. Montenegro, while not in the EU, is on the euro. Most places will take card, but you'll want cash for market purchases and hold luggage fare on buses.

It may be difficult to find tasty and filling food as a vegan. I was not particularly impressed by most of the food I had, and it may be partially because a lot of traditional food is meat- or cheese-based. Be prepared to do some scouting!

There is a tourist tax in Montenegro. If you stay in a hotel, the tax (1 euro/night) should be included. If you stay in an Airbnb or apartment, you'll pay your host; make sure your host has you registered, as this is apparently checked at the border. This may not be as strict as online forums make it seem, but I definitely was panicking at one point.

Smoking is even more common than it is in Western Europe. People may even smoke in their apartments, so be sure to ask your hosts about their rules if you're sensitive to cigarette smoke.

There are cats everywhere. Most of them are "stray," but people will give them food, so many look well-nourished. They're apparently very friendly in general, and don't mind a tummy rub or even being picked up.

Locals generally speak English and are very friendly and willing to help. My hosts were very attentive and sweet, a couple of them even welcoming me and taking care of me as if I were part of the family. And when I looked lost in Split, an elderly man asked if I needed help. That said, I did encounter one teenager in Montenegro who told me and an Irish friend I'd made to "get out" and that living in the Balkans was miserable compared to visiting. Be aware of your privilege as a tourist, and know that not everyone is excited about tourism.

Have you ever visited any of these spots? Let me know what you thought, or if there's a gem that I missed!
Happy travels,

14 Days in Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro | {imperfect idealist}

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