Snapshots from Dresden

Albrechtsburg
Schloss Albrechtsberg (Albrechtsberg Castle), built in 1854, sits above the Elbe River in Dresden, Germany.

This last week we’ve been in Dresden, Germany, visiting Claudia’s family there and seeing some of the plentiful historical and cultural sights this beautiful city has to offer. Here is a somewhat random collection of snapshots from our time there. (These were all taken with my iPhone, which is a photographer’s way of saying that I was too lazy to carry my real camera around!)

Continue reading “Snapshots from Dresden”

Best of Bosnia, Montenegro, and Croatia – 2015

As you may have noticed if you follow this blog, during July and August of 2015 we spent a month traveling in the former Yugoslavian countries of Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Croatia. I have finally finished processing my photos and have posted a gallery of my favorite photos from the trip.

→ See my best photos from Bosnia, Montenegro, and Croatia 2015 here! ←

I have also gone back and added lots more photos and text to my previously posted trip reports below, so take a look again down further! That is all.

Elbe Dusk Panorama

Dresden, Elbe River, Kofkirche, cathedral,Germany, reflection
Elbe Dusk Panorama : Prints Available

The Katholische Hofkirche (aka Dresden Cathedral), reflects in the Elbe River at dusk.  The church was originally built in the mid-18th century, was badly damaged during the bombing of Dresden in WWII, and was restored in the mid-1980s.

After our travels in Bosnia and Montenegro, we made an epic train ride all the way from Sarajevo to Germany to visit Claudia’s family and friends and celebrate her sister’s wedding! We had fun visiting everybody and although I already greatly missed the Balkan wine, I was able to drown my sorrows in plenty of good German Hefeweizen! 🙂

Mostar

Bosnia,Europe,Mostar
Mostar Village : Prints Available

Stone village in the old town of Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina.

The cobblestoned old town of Mostar is a must-see destination in Bosnia & Herzegovina. Its charming stone buildings line the Neretva River, connected by the high-arched Stari Most bridge (the one pictured below). This iconic bridge was originally built in 1566 under Ottoman rule, and is one of Bosnia & Herzogovina’s most recognizable landmarks.

Stari Most, bridge, Mostar, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Neretva, river, reflection
Stari Most Reflection : Prints Available

The famous Stari Most (Old Bridge) bridge reflects in the Neretva River.

The Stari Most bridge is not only a symbol of Bosnia & Herzegovina, but also of the tragic events of the Bosnian War and subsequent healing process. Mostar suffered greatly during the war in 1992-95 after the disintegration of Yugoslavia. This war is extremely complex to understand; but here’s the gist of it in a very basic nutshell, as I understand (keeping in mind that I’m no historian, I’m just an outsider trying to make sense of the history):

Since the world wars there were always deep nationalistic tensions between the Croats and Serbs; these tensions were suppressed under Tito’s rule under a unified communist Yugoslavia. After Tito’s death, poor economic times and lack of strong leadership led to a renewed rise in these nationalistic divisions. The Croats, who had felt persecuted under Tito’s regime, were eager to form an independent Croatia, while the Serbians viewed Yugoslavia as a type of “greater Serbia” and resisted the breakup of “their” territory. Bosnia (with its mix of Serbs, Croats, and Muslims) was culturally and geographically at the center this tug of war, and once Croatia and then Bosnia voted for independence, the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) and other Serbian paramilitaries responded brutally, occupying much of Bosnia and committing atrocities of ethnic cleansing not seen on European soil since WWII. United Nations forces were sent in to “keep the peace” by attempting to disarm both sides, but in reality their policy of “neutrality” meant that they did nothing while the much more heavily armed Yugoslav army continued their massacres.

In 1992 Mostar was attacked and bombed by the JNA (Serbs), until a UN-brokered agreement moved the JNA forces out. The defense of the city was left to the Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) and Croat armies, while Serbs from Mostar were forced to leave and many Serbian cultural and religious monument were destroyed. In 1993 the allied Croat and Bosniak forces turned against each other, due to the unwillingness of the Bosniaks to form a confederation of Bosnia and Croatia (with large parts of Bosnia carved off for the Croats), resulting in a brutal 11-month siege against the mainly Muslim east side of the Neretva River, which was almost completely destroyed though never captured. In November 1993, after 427 years of spanning the river, the beloved Stari Most bridge collapsed after tank shelling from the Croat side. In March 1994 the Washington Agreement was signed, which ended the Croat-Muslim confict. The broader war continued until finally NATO conducted air strikes that crippled Serbian networks and the Bosnian and Croat armies were able to retake large portions of land. In December 1995, the Dayton Peace Accords were signed, formally bringing an end to Bosnian War.

The Stari Most bridge was reconstructed in 2004, once again connecting the two sides of Mostar.

Bosnia,Europe,Mostar, jewelry
Mostar Jewelry : Prints Available

Jewelry for sale in Mostar.

Along the Adriatic

Montenegro,Petrovac, Adriatic Sea
Petrovac : Prints Available

A cafe perched on a rocky outcropping in Petrovac, Montenegro, along the Adriatic Sea.

After our treks in the mountains of Montenegro, we were feeling pretty trekked-out and looking forward to a more relaxing stretch of travels along the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Yes, we knew it would be hot, crowded, touristy, and expensive compared to the mountains, but we wanted to visit there anyways; no trip to Montenegro would be complete without a visit to the coast.

Europe,Kotor,Montenegro
Kotor at Night : Prints Available

Nighttime over the lights of Kotor, Montenegro.

We spent three days relaxing in the ancient walled town of Kotor at the head of the Bay of Kotor, a fjord off the Adriatic Sea. When I think of fjords Norway comes to mind, so it’s quite novel to see a Mediterranean version of a fjord.

Europe,Kotor,Montenegro
Kotor Panorama : Prints Available

A panorama in the ancient walled town of Kotor, Montenegro. Although this square was quite busy with tourists walking around, their motion during my long exposures rendered them mostly invisible to the camera.

Kotor is a very charming old town with a labyrinth of narrow marble pedestrian alleys and inviting cafes around every corner. Like much of the Adriatic coast, Kotor has a distinctively Italian influence in the architecture and cuisine. It’s a great place to stroll around aimlessly, and sit down with a bottle of Vranac and a plate of mussels!

Croatia,Dubrovnik,Adriatic Sea
Above Dubrovnik : Prints Available

A postcard view of the walled old town of Dubrovnik, Croatia along the Adriatic Sea.

A few hours drive up the coast from Kotor and over the border in Croatia is the famous walled city of Dubrovnik, our next destination and a romantic place to spend our third anniversary!

Croatia,Dubrovnik, roofs
Dubrovnik Roofs : Prints Available

The orange tiled rooftops in the old city of Dubrovnik.

Croatia,Dubrovnik,Europe
Dubrovnik Archway : Prints Available

The blurred hustle and bustle of crowds of tourists in Dubrovnik.

Bukumirsko Jezero

Bukumirsko Jezero,Dinaric Alps,Montenegro,Zijovo, Pasjak, reflection
Bukumirsko Jezero : Prints Available

Pasjak and the Zijovo range reflect in Bukumirsko Jezero at sunset – Montenegro, July.

Montenegro is a small country — about the size of the state of Connecticut, or in Colorado terms roughly the size of the broader San Juan Mountain region. (See a visual size comparison here). Despite the small area, Montenegro is packed full of beautiful mountain ranges, only a few of which we had time to explore during our travels. One such lesser known range is Zijovo, which we briefly visited on our way from the Prokletije mountains to the coast.

We car camped nearby Bukumirsko Jezero, a popular lake enjoyed by many Montenegrin vacationers. Once the crowds ventured on in the evening, we had the lake to ourselves and enjoyed a pleasant sunset along with a tasty bottle of Vranac. Have I mentioned how incredibly delicious the wine is in Montenegro? When we arrived back at camp, we met a couple of friendly fellows from Slovenia, who insisted on sharing their wine with us and we ended up talking for hours into the night. A refreshing swim in the lake helped ease my throbbing head the next morning!

Though we had hoped to do a long hike in these impressive mountains, our legs were too tired from all our recent treks, the weather was too hot, and our motivation levels dangerously low. So we decided that our time in the mountains was finished for this trip and onwards we went, driving the long winding roads towards the coast.

Grebaje Valley

A view of the jagged spires towering over the Grebaje Valley.

After our strenuous loop trek through the Prokletije mountains, we spent a few days relaxing at an eko-katun (mountain lodge) in the Grebaje Valley, just on the other side of the mountain spine that we had trekked below the day prior. The Grebaje Valley is absolutely jaw-dropping spectacular, with massive jagged spires rocketing out of the valley. These are amongst the most dramatic and abrupt mountains I’ve seen, on par with the Dolomites or Julian Alps.

Prokletije, Montenegro, Karanfili, hiking, Grebaje

Hiking in front of the wildly jagged Karanfili massif high above the Grebaje Valley in the Prokletije mountains of southern Montenegro.

Although we were intending to relax, we just had to go on a hike up Talijanka (aka Popadija), a 2057m peak with an epic panoramic vista of the most jagged part of the Prokletije range. The upper half the hike ascends a high ridge line with precipitous cliffs that drop nearly vertically down to the bottom of the Grebaje Valley far below, offering dramatic views of the impossibly rugged Karanfili massif across the valley.

Europe,Montenegro,Prokletije
Meadow Sunset : Prints Available

Sunset in the Prokletije mountains.

Grebaje Valley,Karanfili,Montenegro,Prokletije, panorama
Karanfili Panorama : Prints Available

Panoramic sunset view of the rugged spires of Karanfili towering over the Grebaje Valley.

Europe,Grebaje Valley,Montenegro,Prokletije,wildflowers
Grebaje Flowers : Prints Available

A meadow of wildflowers surrounded by jagged spires in the Grebaje Valley.

I could have spent weeks in the Grebaje Valley, but alas we had to keep on traveling on!

The Cursed Mountains

Vusanje, Ropojana, Gusinje, Prokletije, Bjeshket e Nemuna

The village of Vusanje in the spectacular Ropojana Valley, Montenegro.

Forming a natural border between Montenegro and Albania is a jagged spine of mountains called the Prokletije in Montenegran and the Bjeshkët e Namuna in Albanian. Both names translate to “cursed mountains”, likely due to their foreboding vertical spires, deep winter snows, and inhospitable ruggedness. These are the biggest and burliest mountains in the Balkans, but despite their grandeur remain relatively unknown and surprisingly undeveloped. In late July we spent 5 days trekking a loop route through the heart of the range, mostly camping and sometimes staying in Albanian villages along the route.

After jumping through a series of bureaucratic hoops at the police station in the nearby town of Plav in order to document our proposed border crossing into Albania, we started hiking from the village of Vusanje, near the town of Gusinje in a far southern corner of Montenegro.

cave, hiking, Prokletije, Bjeshket e Nemuna

View from a cave entrance high in the Prokletije.

The “cursed mountains” lived up to their name in one respect, which was the oftentimes oppressive heat during the day. This big cave entrance provided a brief respite, with a chilly breeze blowing out from its depths. During the hike up here we met a Serbian caver who has explored this cave numerous times in the past and was back again with a group of friends to explore and chart even further.

Albania,Maja Jezerce,Bjeshkët e Namuna, Prokletije
Maja Jezerce Sunrise : Prints Available

Maja Jezerce (2694 m / 8839 ft.) is the highest mountain in Albania.

For our first night we camped up on Qafa e Prosllopit, a high pass right at the border between Montenegro and Albania. After an evening spent huddling in the tent with lightning and thunder booming around, my inner masochist convinced us to wake up in the middle of the night to hike up Zla Kolata before sunrise.

At 2534 m, Zla Kolata (aka Kollata e Keqe) is technically the tallest mountain in Montenegro; 12 meters taller than Bobotov Kuk, which is generally considered to be Montenegro’s tallest peak. Why does Bobotov get all the love, when it’s not even the highest? First of all, Bobotov Kuk is indeed the tallest Montenegrin peak that is completely within Montenegro territory; Zla Kolata is right on the border so shares its summit with Albania. But once we hiked up Zla Kolata, I realized perhaps the real unspoken reason why Zla Kolata gets no fame: while Bobotov Kuk is a beautiful, striking peak and the crown jewel of the beloved Durmitor National Park, Zla Kolata is actually just a fairly nondescript summit overshadowed by a plethora taller and more spectacular neighboring mountains just over the border in Albania. So it just wouldn’t be fitting for Montenegrins to pride themselves on such an unremarkable “bump” surrounded by taller giants!

Albania,Bjeshkët e Namuna,Prokletije,Valbona, panorama, sunrise
Sunrise Above Valbona : Prints Available

Sunrise light shines into the Valbona valley and the Bjeshkët e Namuna (Prokletije) mountains, as seen from Podi e Kollates (2556 m).  

Despite the obscurity of Zla Kolata itself, it’s part of a high plateau that offers incredible views of the surrounding mountains as well as a jaw-dropping overlook into the 1600+ meter (5,000+ feet) deep Valbona valley, where we would be hiking down to later this day. Continue reading “The Cursed Mountains”

Durmitor Loop

Bobotov Kuk,Dinaric Alps,Durmitor National Park,Montenegro,wildflowers
Wildflowers and Bobotov Kuk : Prints Available

The setting sun illuminates a field of wildflowers on a high mountain pass, with Bobotov Kuk towering behind.

Durmitor National Park is certainly the most famous and beloved mountain range in Montenegro. The mountains here aren’t the biggest or baddest ever, but they have an undeniably wonderful and unique character, like a combination of the rugged might of the Alps with the wild solitude of the Colorado Rockies. They seem to have a dash of everything I love most in mountains — jagged spires, sculpted peaks, vast green meadows, fields of wildflowers, misty forests, emerald lakes, and the freedom to explore it all in relative solitude. We spent four amazing days last week trekking through the heart of these fantastic mountains.

Bobotov Kuk,Dinaric Alps,Durmitor National Park,Montenegro, Bandijerna, panorama
Bobotov Kuk Panorama : Prints Available

Panoramic view of Bobotov Kuk (2522 m / 8274 ft) and the Durmitor range, as seen from the summit of Bandijerna.

This was actually my second time visiting Durmitor; I was here by myself back in June of 2004. At that time it was the off season, the mountains were still covered in snowpack, and I was the only tourist in Zabljak, the little town situated at the base of the Durmitor mountains. There was only one restaurant open then, where I ate every evening with some Serbian army guys I met. It rained six days straight and when it finally stopped I used all my pent up energy to walk from town to the summit of Bobotov Kuk (the highest peak) and back in one day, with snowpack and all. Those army guys said it was impossible and didn’t believe me until I showed them the summit photos on my camera!

Eleven years later, in the height of summer season, the town of Zabljak is hopping. There’s people everywhere, lots of restaurants and bars, probably twice as many houses around here, and a general vibrant vibe that was completely absent during my previous visit. But despite the bustle in town, once we hiked past the popular Crno Jezero lake near the park entrance, the crowds quickly thinned. By the time we reached our first campsite we hadn’t seen anybody for hours. This range is small but there’s still plenty of opportunity to get away.

Lots more photos below! Continue reading “Durmitor Loop”

Page 1 of 812345...Last »