Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina: Beauty Among the Ruins

After leaving Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, (you’ll read about sweet Sarajevo in a future post), I couldn’t believe the trip was halfway over. After several nights of bonding over epic sunset views, strong rakija and amazing beef cevapi with the #YOGYPSY crew, I didn’t even want to think about the trip coming to an end.

Our next stop was Mostar, the quaint cultural capital of the southeastern Herzegovina region. We left Sarajevo around 10 in the morning via van and started off on the 2.5 (which turned into 5) hour drive. Similar to the other car journeys during our time together, we were on Balkan time: enjoying the scenery, stopping for Bosnian coffee, and of course starting a dance party at every restaurant that crossed our path.

A couple of hours into our journey we stopped for lunch in Jablanica, a town in central Bosnia and Herzegovina. Known for its lush foliage and dramatic mountain views, we spent a good half hour snapping photos. Even on a cloudy day, the Neretva River was a picturesque shade of blue-green.

IMG_0797-1IMG_0660-1IMG_0661-1After lunch, we continued our journey to a city founded in the 1400s, exhibiting signs of a previous era of Turkish rule. Although Mostar was one of the smaller towns we visited during our 11-day trek through the Balkans, it was quite possibly the most memorable. The Old Town, with architecture dating back to the medieval ages, was very striking in its contrast between the peaceful Neretva River and the remnants of devastating violence from the Yugoslav Wars.

The Stari Most (Old Bridge) is the most recognizable and magnificent architectural piece in Mostar, soaring high above the old town in a perfect arch. Constructed in 1566 by the Ottomans, it stood for over 400 years until it was destroyed during the Croat-Bosniak War. In 2004, the bridge was reconstructed completely, representing rebirth of a town that lost so much a mere twenty years ago.

IMG_0881-1IMG_0878-1IMG_0808-1IMG_0801-1IMG_0887-1IMG_0814-1Stepping outside of the bubble that is Old Town, I noticed the city hadn’t exactly started fresh. Bombed out buildings, bullet-ridden houses and cemeteries give the city an eerie feeling that I couldn’t quite shake.  In 1993, due to residual effects from the Bosnian War, Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats began fighting over territory within Mostar. Bosniaks were driven out of the western part of the city and the Old Bridge was part of the front line, dividing the city between the Muslims and Christians. Most of the horribly battered buildings are located here. One of the more prominent ruins was a bank tower turned sniper den, towering above the city as an ominous sign of the city’s war-torn past.

IMG_0852-1IMG_0800-1While a few of the other #YOGPYSY trippers did a little urban exploration in some of the abandoned buildings, I opted for coffee and a little writing. For a better account on the devastation and heartache the war caused on many people in the region, check out Yomadic’s blog for a very poignant account of a homeless man in Mostar.IMG_0830-1IMG_0843-1It is local custom in Mostar for brave bridge jumpers to plunge into the chilly Neretva River to showcase their strength. We learned upon arrival that we would most likely not witness this for free, as most local divers charge around 25 euro to make the 20-meter jump.  After forking over the cash, a 20-something diver was happy to oblige, already in a wetsuit, ready to make the leap. I had to get this on video (below) because it looked absolutely terrifying.

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Stay tuned as I continue to document my trip through the Balkans. Up next: the gem that is Sarajevo!

Wanna Get Away: Reykjavik, Iceland

In the spirit of providing kick arse travel advice to my readers, I’m announcing a monthly travel series titled Wanna Get Away. I’ll feature a hot destination bubbling under the radar. I’ll tell you when to go, how to get there, and of course, the best off-the-beaten-path locales. This month I’m giving you the low down on Reykjavik, Iceland.

the skinny

Is Bjork (and her infamous swan dress) the first image that comes to mind when thinking of this island country near the Arctic Circle? Iceland may seem far off and exotic but is in fact only a five-hour flight from the East Coast of the U.S. Whether you are a first time traveler playing it safe or a veteran wayfarer, Iceland offers something for every travel personality. Glaciers, geysers and geothermal pools, the country is chock-full of awe-inspiring natural wonders. Reykjavik, Iceland’s bustling capital city and the northernmost capital of the world,  is definitely on the top of my European to-do list.

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now departing

Although many people flock to Iceland during the summer for the mild weather and the variety of tours and expeditions offered during the peak season, native Icelanders say the best time to visit is during the winter months. With an average temperature of 32 degrees Fahrenheit, Iceland is surprisingly warmer than many cities in the U.S. (ahem, Chiberia) during winter and is known for its festive holiday celebrations.  IcelandAir offers non-stop service from New York and even gives you the option to stopover for free when flying to or from another destination in Europe.

you gotta see this

The hesitation by many to traipse through crowded touristy areas is understandable. However, fortunate for the tourism industry, Iceland is one of the world’s most accessible viewing spots for the Northern Lights, a natural display of lights that creates a surreal green glow across the skies. Quick tip though – be patient. To actually see the lights you’ll most likely have to venture outside of the capital city for ideal viewing conditions, and you may have to watch intently for several nights just to catch a glimpse. Judging from the spectacular views, it all seems worth it.

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Where else but in Iceland can you find a spa located in a lava field? I’m talking about the Blue Lagoon, a man-made lagoon containing pools of water heated by underground lava. Located about 20 minutes from the airport, what better way to end a vacation then by soaking in a steam room cave said to have healing properties? Before you go, do your research. With standard packages starting at $50, you’ll definitely fork over some dough to experience this can’t miss tourist attraction.

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off the beaten path

Travel a little further from Reykjavik and take a stroll on the Black Sand Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, located underneath a glacier-covered volcano. For a day-long excursion, take a hike through Fjord Hvalfjordour (whale fjord), named after the large number of whales seen here by the original settlers. Located just north of Reykjavik, it’s the perfect spot for adventurers to hike through the weaving landscape, explore the forest and venture to Iceland’s highest waterfall.

around the web

Tour Iceland through the eyes of a local! Check out these pretty awesome travel blogs:

http://icelandeyes.blogspot.com/

http://www.iheartreykjavik.net/

New England Charm in Newport, RI

Nautical chic, seaside swanky, classically preppy; there are so many ways I could describe Newport, RI, a seaside resort town about 40 minutes from the capital city of Providence.

Called the Hamptons of Rhode Island by many, Newport is known for its luxurious resort living; a place where the New England rich elite live, and others vacation during the summer. I visited the week prior to Labor Day weekend, so the city seemed to be winding down for the season. Nevertheless, I was still able to experience the essence that is Newport – boating, fine dining and meandering through the hilly estates of the country’s wealthiest families.IMG_0495photo

Newport was an 18th century port city, famous for sprawling mansions and colonial buildings. The town was an early center for shipbuilding and served as the center for trade with China in the early 1800s. In present day, it’s a haven for sailing, mansion tours, and many vibrant festivals year round.

Our hotel was a quick walk to Bowen’s Wharf, an outdoor shopping and dining area located right on the water. The wharf, lined with brick walkways, was formerly a thriving seaport. Now, the wharf is a symbol of Newport’s rich history and flourishing culture.

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After exploring the wharf, I was fortunate enough to be able to take in the city’s sights on a boat. The views were breathtaking – see for yourself.newportbyboatnewportsunsetboatphoto (1)

All the locals we talked to said a trip to Rhode Island is not complete without New England Clam Chowder, which I quickly discovered was the best I’d ever had. Scallops, lobster, and seafood galore – I’m pretty sure I tasted some of the best fish in the world during my short five day stay.

On my last day in Newport, I went off on my own to explore the downtown historic district. My first stop was the International Tennis Hall of Fame.  Built in 1954, the museum spans over 20,000 square feet and contains six grass courts and 18 galleries chock full of videos, interactive exhibits, and memorabilia from current and former tennis champions.

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Even if you aren’t into tennis, this a definitely a place worth visiting. Housed in the historic Newport Casino, a social and recreational club built in 1880, the first ever U.S. National Championships were held on the legendary museum courts. The Casino hosted the event until 1915 when the tournament moved to Forest Hills, N.Y and was renamed the U.S Open.

The Casino’s historic courts are the world’s oldest continuously used competition grass courts and the only competition grass courts open to the public for play.

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My next step was the famous Cliff Walk, a 3.5 mile stretch of rugged trail along the Newport shoreline. Although the weather was chilly and overcast in the mid-50s (not ideal photo taking weather), I worked up a sweat as I trekked over rocks and narrow walkways to catch a glimpse of New England’s most famous vistas. viewsofshoreIMG_0474duckonrockIMG_0489flowersnewport

As I continued to make my way down the Cliff Walk, I passed by The 40 Steps, a stone staircase that drops down the side of a cliff to a balcony overlooking the sea. During the mid 19th century, the wooden steps served as a gathering place for the servants working at the nearby mansions. After being destroyed by a hurricane in the early 1900s, the steps were reconstructed with stone and cement. Carved into each of the 40 steps is the name of an individual who donated money for this restoration in 1980.

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And last, but certainly not least, the mansions! Along the walk you’ll see many historical homes, including the Breakers, Newport’s most famous summer cottage, serving as a symbol of the Vanderbilt’s financial and social significance in the late 1890s.

Beauty, elegance, and style – the homes along the Cliff Walk, the history of a thriving seaport, and the exclusivity of a posh casino allow us to reminisce (and only dream) about what life in Newport’s gilded age must have been like.

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