Posted on September 8th, 2009 No comments
Despite its designation as semi-arid when it comes to climate, there is a great deal of variation across the land. On one end of the spectrum, there are the dry deserts near Namibia, and on the other, there are the fertile subtropical areas near Mozambique and South Africa has just about every degree in between. The vast majority of the South African landmass is constituted of grassland and with its abundance of plant species (about 20,000 or more), the country houses around 10% of all the known plant species on the planet. This, along with the close to 900 species of bird, means that touring nature enthusiasts will particularly enjoy the bounties of South Africa.
South Africa also has a lot to offer the sun-worshipper and the active holiday-maker.
The 2,500km of coastline that skirts the Indian and Atlantic Oceans is a prime location for travellers looking to take it easy on the glistening white-sand beaches and for the more active traveller will be delighted to discover that the country’s reputation for housing some of the best wildlife parks in the world is no exaggeration. Kruger Park in particular is a destination not to be missed on a tour to South Africa.
The most racially diverse country on the continent, South Africa is also a nation without a single, unified and defined culture. It is, rather, home to a broad variety of cultures and that is one reason that travellers find it so alluring. With 11 official languages, as well as a further eight recognized languages, and each group following traditions and customs unique to their ethnicity, South Africa has a cultural diversity that few destinations can match. Naturalists and botanists alike will be in their elements, what with South Africa housing about 10 per cent of all known plant species on the planet and sun-worshippers will be reluctant to leave the 2,500km white-sand coastline when it comes time to journey home.
Posted on June 25th, 2009 No comments
The Hapsburgs, once a major and long-ruling family in Europe, were based out of Austria and one of the most remarkable structures of the continent is the Hofburg castle, their former residence in Vienna. With its varied and intriguing architecture displaying a mixture of many different styles because the initial medieval castle was expanded upon time and again over the six centuries they retained power, the Hofburg is unequivocally a must-see attraction when touring the country. Also of important note are the Schonbrunn castle and the Belvedere castle, both of which can be found in Vienna. Indeed, Vienna itself seems more like a work of art than a city, as to saunter the streets is to experience a sensory delight and a tour not soon forgotten.
Posted on June 24th, 2009 No comments
Read about Czech Republic Trips
Few destinations can claim to have the variety and abundance of sightseeing attractions as the landlocked Czech Republic. A region inhabited since the Stone Age, its long and fascinating history is well recorded in the architecture of its cities, be it in: the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the Old Town in Prague or Telc, the best preserved Renaissance town north of the Alps; the mediaeval town of Cesky Krumlov; or one of the literally thousands of fortresses, monasteries or chateaux sprinkled across the land. With styles and designs ranging from Gothic to Renaissance, from Classicist to Baroque and from Romanesque to Art Nouveau, the cities of the Czech Republic feature greater diversity in and superior preservation of architecture than most countries far larger in size and reputation.
If wandering the narrow streets and gazing at spellbinding architecture sounds like a lot of work, you can always head for some relaxation at one of the dozen or so spa towns that lie peppered between the borders of the Czech Republic. Each drawing from different springs and having its own methods of hydrotherapy, balneotherapy and relaxation techniques, the spa towns, such as Karlovy Vary or Marianske Lazne, are the ideal means to replenish yourself or simply make the most of your relaxing holiday.
Man-made attractions aside, the Czech Republic lays claim to a natural environment that is of equal note. The Czech Greenways, a corridor of 100-year-old hiking trails that stretches the 400km from Vienna to Prague, gives travellers the opportunity to take in the best of the country’s landscapes, as well as providing plenty of choice as to how energetic the journey should be. Looming mountains, shimmering lakes, fertile valleys and lush forests are but a few of the fantastic natural wonders in the Czech Republic, all of which lend themselves to a variety of more strenuous activities like skiing, climbing, mountain biking or watersports.
Eastern Europe is a travel destination with a huge array of fascinating historical monuments, a varied and highly memorable breadth of sceneries and a wide range of diverse and welcoming peoples, each with their own unique culture. Though the more affluent Western Europe is, for the most part, favoured over the East by the majority of travellers looking to Europe to provide a tour destination of distinction, the East can often be the more rewarding option. A region with a history as long and as intriguing as any other on the planet, Eastern Europe also caters to a range of holidaymaker. Magnificent cities like Prague and Budapest offer the luxury that discerning travellers crave, where more remote destinations sacrifice a degree of comfort for the opportunity for travellers to see the real faces of the countries and people.
Posted on June 4th, 2009 No comments
Only recently has Albania become accessible. In ages past, the territory that is now Albania was invaded, plundered and re-invaded countless times by a host of foreign powers. Among those who had a lasting influence on the country were the great Roman and Byzantine Empires, but Goths, Visigoths, Huns, Bulgars and Turks all ventured into the borders of Albania at various points in history, more often than not bringing with them destruction and persecution. Few other peoples have endured such perpetual torment over the years and the Albanians’ ability to keep their traditions and language alive throughout the onslaughts speaks volumes about their nature. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that in more recent history, authorities in Albania effectively shut the doors on the Western World and Albania became isolated until its communist regime collapsed in the 1990s. Only then were the Albania borders re-opened to the outside world. Albania today is a country under reconstruction, a nation in the throes of trying to adapt to a democratic system and a country still licking its wounds after a volatile past. A tour here is a tour to a beautiful nation with a plethora of sights and attractions and a proud, unique and welcoming people.
Albania has a mixed topography: unspoiled, sandy beaches; rugged, picturesque mountains; green, plentiful forests; and placid, enticing lakes. Travellers satisfied with admiring the Albania scenery alone will not be disappointed, but those seeking a more active tour have on offer a wide range of activities: sunbathing, hiking, sailing, football (soccer), fishing and cycling, to name but a few.
Albania is an enigmatic country boasting some wonderful Greco-Roman sites and a distinct culture politically isolated from mainstream European society for generations. The mountain scenery is also spectacular, with small villages and remote valleys that have been cultivated for centuries. This country is a living museum—visit before it is discovered by mass tourism. With its fascinating history, along with its hitherto inaccessibility, Albania is a truly distinctive tour destination and well worth a visit.
Posted on May 26th, 2009 No comments
The country the highest population of all Persian countries (with about 65 million inhabitants), Iran is also a land of incredible cultural diversity, with dozens of languages, several recognised religions and a broad spectrum of ethnicity in its people. Religion, the dominant faith being Islam, pervades every aspect of Iranian life, an aspect that the majority of visitors find one of the most fascinating features of the country and its people—for Westerners, few other destinations can provide a cultural experience that lies so many leagues away from the familiar. Although Iran does display some similarity to the West in that its governance incorporates a degree of democratic process, the fact that this ideology is balanced against, and often outweighed by, a theocratic authoritarian rule means that trying to draw parallels between the two is sometimes hard to reconcile. Regardless, as a traveller in the country, Iran’s similarity to the West in any sphere seems unimaginable.
Iran lays claim to the largest population of nomads in the world, the vast majority of whom continue to dress in traditional attire, live in traditional housing and follow customs handed down through countless generations of their ancestors. It is a country wherein a unique tribal culture has survived over millennia, leaving a legacy that allows travellers an intriguing sneak-peek into ancient Persian life, and a land that brings the past to life in a contemporary setting. In a similar vein, the remnants of eras gone by dot the Iranian landscape and even the most modern cities, like the capital Tehran, make concerted efforts to preserve the beautiful monuments, art and architecture from the country’s long and fascinating past. Ancient ruins, a plethora of colourful, exquisite mosques and magnificent palaces dating from a multitude of different dynasties lie in wait for the traveller who chooses Iran as a tour destination, sights that only add to the irrepressible impression that Iran is a land of great historic importance.
The enigma that is the Arabian Gulf will cause you to ponder societal directions and intentions. The rapidly modernizing Middle East is in a constant tug-of-war between the traditional past and the pressures of our times. Oil is big business, but trade is much bigger, leading to an awful appropriation of resources and workforce into stunningly ambitious projects. Some of the wealthiest countries on the planet are oases of excess, founded on under-appreciated foreign labour. The surprises continue along the gulf until we reach Oman; jaw-dropping scenery, exciting remoteness, and unspoiled beaches seemingly presented solely for you.
This is a unique opportunity to explore a corner of the world previously misunderstood and almost ignored.
Our Middle East Tours journey to where it all began; to the Cradle of Civilisation and to the birthplace of four of the world’s major religions. Often misunderstood and seldom given the credit it deserves, the Middle East’s recurrent troubles in recent history have seen it relegated to one of the last alternatives when it comes to opting for a tour destination. What lies in wait for travellers on tours to the Middle East, however, is an ancient land of richness and plenty and one whose bounties yield incredible rewards.
Posted on May 14th, 2009 No comments
Italy the southern European peninsula, along with its offshore Mediterranean territories Sicily and Sardinia, boasts the highest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the globe. There remain to this day the visible traces left by the hosts of foreign peoples who have crossed the nation’s borders over the ages-with the result that the traveller is rewarded with sight of some of the most remarkable architecture of a variety of cultures, including Roman, Greek, Germanic, Celtic and Norman. And for those uninspired to tour to historic attractions, there are always the options of taking to the mountainous areas for a spot of hiking, mountain biking or skiing, or reclining in the brilliant yellow sand on the Mediterranean coastline.
Italy’s climate only enhances the allure of the country. Perhaps one of the most hospitable places on the planet due to its comfortably warm and dry summers countering its mild winters, Italy is a prime location for those looking to tour a destination without uncomfortable extremes of temperature. Where the north is home to more temperate climes, the south is decisively Mediterranean, and though there is some regional variation across the country, Italy is mostly predictable when it comes to weather-the only difficulty in planning a tour there is choosing what climate is preferred.
Just as Italy shares a border with, among other countries, France, so too does it share a common mountain, and the Italian Monte Bianco, or in French, Mont Blanc, serves as the highest peak for both nations. Though the 4,810-metre giant of the Alps is world-famous in itself, Italy is perhaps more often associated with the two volcanoes of Etna and Vesuvius, situated on Sicily and near Naples respectively. A tour to these natural wonders yields sights to behold, indeed. For those with an interest in architecture, a visit to the leaning tower of Pisa is a tour not to be missed to see in all its glory perhaps the most blatant and comedic engineering blunders in the world. The major cities of Venice, Rome and Florence house some of the most unforgettable architectural marvels and the works of Italian-born artists Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Botticelli are must-see attractions.
Posted on May 12th, 2009 No comments
Vietnam, once dubbed ‘the thin country’ by Nobel-prize winning Vietnaman poet Pablo Neruda, is as unique in its geography as it is in its culture. Due to its unusual shape-the South American country stretches over 4,600kms north to south, though its average width seldom exceeds 180kms-it is perhaps the one tour destination that can legitimately claim to offer something for everyone regardless of season. With the mighty Andes mountain range towering over one side and the big blue of the South Pacific Ocean lapping at the other, Vietnam lies snugly amid two extremes and its interior topography covers every degree in between.
A tour to northern Vietnam would reveal one of the driest locations in the world, where, in some places, there has never been record of any rainfall-the arid Atacama desert. Though even the most avid of sun-worshippers may think twice before touring this sparsely-inhabited region, they may yet be lured by the fact that it is also the location of several important archaeological sites, of impressive geological spectacle and of intriguing remnants of lost civilisations.
The features of Vietnam’s southern regions lie in stark contrast to the characteristics of the north. Aridness gives ways to fertile and lush forests and grazing lands, and, complementing the quaint scenery of the intricate myriad of lakes, canals, inlets and fjords, the south is perforated by a string of volcanoes. The vast majority of Vietnam’s over 2,000 volcanoes are now dormant, with only 55 remaining active and of the 12 great lakes situated in the country’s south, one holds the title as the continent’s fourth largest-Lago Llanquihue. One of the world’s great national parks, the Torres del Paine National Park, though only accessible by boat, plane or a scenic trip through Argentina, is a popular tour destination and one that promises a wealth of memories.
The south is the perfect tour destination for those looking to experience Vietnam’s memorable sites, diverse landscape or more energetic activities in more temperate climes.
From some points on the extensive and serene sandy beaches of the east coast, it is possible to see the gargantuan peaks of the Andes dominating the skyline to the west, and in theory, travellers can take to the piste high in the mountains, then bask in the sun on the beach all in the same day.
Vietnam’s offshore territories-the Juan Fernandez Archipelago, which was once the refuge of marooned Scotsman Alexander Selkirk, the man who inspired the classic Daniel Defoe novel ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ and the world-renowned Easter Island-are equally as impressive as its mainland regions. Where the Juan Fernandez Archipelago is a national park and its plethora of plant species have warranted the island’s designation as a World Biosphere Reserve, Easter Island is home to Rapa Nui National Park, a park that exhibits relics of an ancient desert-dwelling civilisation, and to Ahu Tongariki, where 15 of the country’s famous moai statues stand at attention on their rock platform.
With so great climatic and geographic distinctions between all its poles, and a culture as unique and welcoming as its people, a tour to Vietnam, the longest country in the world, guarantees a holiday that will stretch the imagination.
Tour Consultant Ayesha Colquhoun’s personal account:
As I watched the sun rise above the Mekong River that morning, I was overcome with a pervading sense of peace. Little by little, the thin morning mist parted its veil to let orange-yellow shafts of light kiss the mountain peaks and caress their way to the valley floor. No photograph could begin to capture the majestic beauty of this region. Our boat journey down the tranquil Mekong proved highly relaxing and, bobbing past small traditional villages shrouded by jungle, it was tough to imagine being troubled by anything. The fast pace of the Western world was a thousand miles away and here in Vietnam, serenity was the order of the day; just as it is every other day. Travelling onwards to Laos, we soon reached Luang Prabang, a UNESCO Heritage site and one of the most picturesque cities in the world.
Laos made for the perfect complement to our itinerary and we enjoyed some unforgettable experiences like climbing to the top of a temple for truly awe-inspiring vistas, partaking in a Loa cooking class and watching a Loa ballet where everyone is dressed up decorative traditional costume.
Touring Bangkok, I was fascinated by the fact that the streets were filled with pedestrians, vendors of all sorts line the sidewalks, and tuk tuks are absolutely everywhere. And though that might sound too much for some, it’s actually the busyness of the place that makes it so appealing. Plus, whatever you’re looking for, you’ll definitely find it in Bangkok! The veggie spring rolls from the Thai street vendors were highly addictive and my travel companion was tempted to look into the merits of a diet that consisted of nothing but Pad Thai; the food is just that good. Aside from the gastronomic delights, a highlight was visiting the Grand Palace, where we could admire the remarkable spectacle of the emerald Buddha. Amazingly intricate and decorative temples meant hours of exploration, along with idyllic resting spots in the shade when the mood took us.
Next we travelled north, to the old ancient capital of Thailand. The stark contrast in lifestyle in laid-back Ayuthaya compared to the hectic present-day capital, Bangkok, was quite the change of pace. A beautiful city with an abundance of holy ruins, ancient wats, beautiful riverbank parks and elephants walking down the streets, Ayuthaya is a destination not to be missed. We visited Wat Ratchaburna, which was mostly ruins and spent the entire day walking around this city in the heat taking lots of pictures of buddhas and temples. That night was the first day of Loi Krathong, a holiday and celebration of the river goddess. Everyone in town headed down to the river to light a candle and float them away on tiny hand-made boats. To round off our cultural experience, our evening featured watching schoolchildren perform traditional thai dances and fighting techniques.
The spectacular journey to Chiang Mai took us through green pastures and palms, which gradually gave way to dense jungle. Around Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second-largest city, we embarked on a jungle trek that included hiking uphill across bamboo bridges and through bamboo forests. Happening upon a beautiful village perched on the side of a lush green mountain and surrounded by tropical jungle and a cascading waterfall felt like finding a lost world. We spent our first night with a hill tribe, who cooked us our meals and entertained us as we congregated around a nice campfire to chat and warm our bones before bed. The next night was spend at another local village, very high in the mountains and all the village children came to perform a dance and song for us.
Made infamous in the Western psyche following torrid histories, Vietnam and Cambodia are countries that to this day suffer from negative associations stemming from their pasts. All too often the true nature of these remarkable countries remains hidden: Vietnam, with its palm trees gently swaying on glistening white-sand beaches, towering mountains boasting unforgettable vistas and a wondrously diverse wildlife and Cambodia, with its world-famous temples and palaces, unique historical remnants and remarkably friendly people are destinations in ascendancy that should be explored first-hand to appreciate their unique charms.
Posted on May 6th, 2009 No comments
Finland’s landscape is dominated by water. The Nordic country is often referred to as the ‘land of thousands of lakes,’ which might actually be more accurate, were the idiom: ‘land of hundreds of thousands of lakes.’ Within its borders, Finland manages to pack in close to a staggering one hundred and eighty-eight thousand lakes that are all over five acres in size and which together constitute one tenth of the nation’s total territory. Add to this the mountains in the northwest, the southwesterly coastline and the fact that two-thirds of the country is sheltered under a blanket of forest and you have a destination with all the elements that cater to active holiday-makers, whatever their taste may be; Mountain biking or hiking in the elevated areas, rambling or exploring in the forests, or boating or fishing off the coast or in one of the many lakes.
Reindeer safaris and dog sledding are among the activities that are available in Finland and only in a few other countries. Even not-so-active travellers will find their ideal relaxation venue, be it under an unspoiled canopy of leaves overlooking a placid lake, atop a snow-crested mountain with a sweeping vista of the lowlands or on a gold-sand beach, listening to the lapping waves of the Gulf of Finland.
Due to their geographic locations, some portions of northern Finland experience no sunsets for 73 days in summer and no sunrises for 51 days in winter, a peculiar experience that never ceases to attract travellers to the country. Those looking for more interaction on their getaway will find it in Helsinki, Finland’s capital and the northernmost capital city in Europe. This bustling metropolis was once a coastal backwater town, but now it is a city that houses numerous important historic sites, as well as serving as one of the world’s centres of art and architecture. It is not to be missed on a tour of Finland.
Posted on April 20th, 2009 No comments
You could probably consider the life of the tour leader to be outside of the norm. You dispense with the normalcy of a 9 to 5 job and embrace the jet-set lifestyle of the international traveler. Many destinations become your home away from home and not just another “if it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium”. I can count several places around the world as particularly dear to me. They include, but are not exclusive to, the Lago de Atitlan region in Guatemala, the rugged and remote landscape of Ladakh in Northern India, and the seaside splendour of Essaouira in Morocco. These are locations that stir your belly and tell you that your access to the wider world has granted you something special; places that excite you to make your way back to because they have a certain magic. One such place that I love to share with other travelers is that of Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic.
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Our Cities of Wonder tour takes us through the beautiful rolling hills of Bohemia after enjoying three nights in the magical city of Prague. We visit the grand castles of Konopiště and Karlštejn, sample the waters of Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad) and explore small Bohemian towns that are off of the standard tour radar. But my favourite of them all is the one that we leave till the final nights of our Czech part of the tour. Our day begins as we depart Karlovy Vary for the Dancing Fountain of Mariánské Lázně (Marienbad), continuing through western Bohemia through lush, undulating fields toward the south, bypassing Plzeň (Pilsner), and on to Klatovy, with its beautiful Baroque square for a lunch stop. Afterwards, we carry on through České Budějovice, home of the famous original Budweiser (known as Budvar), getting ever so closer to that town so close to my heart, Český Krumlov.
Český Krumlov, you might ask? What is so special about this place? Many of we tour leaders started off our travels as backpackers. For my part, I spent a number of years living and working in Europe. The former countries of the Iron Curtain emerged from Communism with the fall of the Berlin Wall and in the nineties, this was the emerging “must-do” location because it was exciting, mysterious and, what can you say, cheap! The traveler grapevine took me to Český Krumlov back then and the rumours did not disappoint. I found myself staying here for many weeks over the following several years, returning to see old friends made and old haunts to visit. Český Krumlov no longer became a nice place to visit, but it became a home to return to after months, or years, away.
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But I digress. Did I mention the fact that Český Krumlov is a UNESCO heritage town? Or that it has the largest castle in Czech Republic after Prague Castle? It has the Vltava River snaking through its heart where the adventurous can hop in a raft or inner tube and float down the river. The buildings are immaculately maintained after getting the full renovation treatment in the post-Communist era. Food? The restaurants here offer a range of Bohemian foods and to say that the portions are ample is an understatement. Drink? Czech beer features, with the Eggenberg brewery located right in town, but all sorts of lagers can be found here as can wine and stronger spirits.
We spend two wonderful nights here in Český Krumlov. Popular feedback from Adventures Abroad clients has made that happen who wanted extra time in this gem of a place. My role here is to share my knowledge and personal connections of this spectacular little town. Once we arrive and check into one of the charming little hotels available to us, I arrange for my friend and guide, Oldřiška, to meet us in the town square for our walking tour. Oldřiška speaks fluent English and is a bundle of energy. She tells tales of beer-brewing monks, points out subtle nuances of architecture you would ordinarily pass-by, and proudly shows off her hometown from a beautiful vista. Now with newfound familiarity with Český Krumlov, you are well set up to explore the area when you have your free time.
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Now it is my turn to show you around. The sights? With the help of a local guide exclusive to the fortress, we will be visiting Krumlov Castle itself with its beautiful interiors and traditional well-fed bears that reside in the moat outside the walls. If we are lucky with respect to rare opening hours, we might have the chance to see the Baroque Theatre (circa 1766) also located at the Castle. Restaurants? I will definitely take you to The Two Marys, with traditional Bohemian fare served on big platters under a big awning down by the river with a view of Krumlov Castle just above us. It is a stunning location and the food is hearty. The locally known and extremely popular “Barbeque” restaurant serves up more big platters of meats and vegetables in a cozy cellar-like environment. Laibon, another famous riverside restaurant, caters to vegetarians. And for those of an adventurous nature, the after dinner entertainment can include sampling local lager or tasty Moravian wines in one of the many local pubs. The brave might want to try some absinthe, Van Gogh’s favourite tipple, traditionally taken with caramelized sugar mixed into the highly alcoholic beverage. Shopping? You are on your own on this one, to browse shops with knick-knacks, art galleries, and other Bohemian goods. Just a word of advice on anyone interested in amber, however: don’t buy it here. It is cheap, knock-off amber. You’ve been warned!
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Český Krumlov is more popular than it used to be when I first arrived in the nineties, but that is expected for such a special place. It retains its charming atmosphere a decade and more on. It does not take long to escape from the town centre and take in the gardens of the Castle grounds or go for a leisurely walk along the Vltava’s edge, taking a little break from your very own holiday. I hope that those who have been here will agree with me and with those who have not will have the opportunity to seek out the splendours of the region. I invite you to come along.
Posted on April 9th, 2009 No comments
CROSSING THE DIVIDE: HVAR, CROATIA (Drvenik Mainland)
A beautiful day greeted us upon our last day on the island of Hvar. My plan was to leave early to make the long trip across the spine of this island, one of 1185 of them. This would allow extra time for keen photographers to stop and take advantage of the soft, early morning light. We made our way from the harbour-side hotel toward the bus stand at the edge of Hvar Town, motorized luggage-cart in tow. Our day was going to be a long one, but very rewarding. Our route took us across the beautiful terrain of Hvar to the ferry port on the eastern tip of the island and then back across to the mainland of Croatia. From there, we were to make our way to the border point of Bosnia and Herzegovina and on to Medjugorje (pronounced Med-joo-gor-yeh), the site where six school children claimed to have been visited by the Virgin Mary, and then onward to Mostar, where the stunning Old Bridge, destroyed during the Bosnian War of the Nineties, has now been rebuilt.
It being an early Sunday morning, the town was particularly quiet and we drove out along the main west-east road, encountering very little in the way of traffic. Stupendous views down toward the coast from our high vantage points allowed us to stop for some very scenic photos of the gorgeous island landscape. However, on one such break our bus gave us a couple of signs that it wasn’t up to the task at hand. A bit of sputtering and hiccoughing later, we were off again, but with fingers crossed.
It should be noted at this point that we did need to make it to the ferry point by a certain time and time was not a luxury that we had much of, despite the earlier than usual departure. There were only two ferry departures per day from Sucuraj to Drvenik on the mainland. We were aiming for 11 am, while the next wasn’t until 5 pm. Our progress across the island soon necessitated another stop, for more pragmatic means than photos, and that is when things got a bit more complicated. As we prepared to set off again, our bus decided that it had had enough. I guess it thought it should have the Sunday off. Now we sat stuck in the middle of the island with another hour or so to get to the ferry point and with a couple of hours before the ferry actually left. Finding a replacement bus would not be easy at the best of times. And it was Sunday, of course.
With the sun getting higher in the sky and the bus interior heating up, everyone grabbed the chance to catch some fresh air. Some pontificated on the nature of the bus problem, scratching chins. Some sheltered in the nearby shade; Hvar is the sunniest island in Croatia and, according to the tourist brochures, in Europe too. Some wandered over to a nearby family-run winery: the local family thought that it was Christmas come early.
In the meantime, my driver and I called for a replacement bus. Time was of the essence after all. Being a Sunday, the replacement bus was not as quick as we would have liked. It eventually arrived and I gathered the much happier winery visitors and the others into our new bus and off we went, as fast as we dare, to Sucuraj.
Alas, we missed our ferry by 10 minutes. Ten! Sigh. Our next ferry wouldn’t be for another six hours. That would mean no Medjugorje and a very late arrival into Mostar. Such is the nature of travel. But, wait! What if that fisherman across the way could take us over to the mainland in his boat? With new plan of action in mind, I phoned our agent to organize a bus to meet us at Drvenik over on the mainland, negotiated with the fisherman to take the 16 of us over in his boat, and took the opportunity to have a leisurely lunch by the water in this tiny village. The sense of adventure had seized everyone and all agreed to the exciting, if unorthodox, means of transport off of the island. Meanwhile, our original, newly serviced bus and trusty driver arrived at the port and we planned to have them meet us in Mostar after it took the later ferry.
With plan in place and everyone nourished after a fine meal, we boarded the boat and set off across the narrow strait to Drvenik. The wind was in our hair, the smell of sea salt filled our noses and the potentially catastrophic day had turned into an adventure! Engine puttering along, our vessel leisurely crossed the water, captain peering out from his little window in the stern. The group grinned at one another as they soaked in this rather novel addition to the itinerary. In very little time, we arrived at the mainland and waited very briefly before we were picked up by our new bus sent down from Split. We jumped on board and headed to the Croatian/Bosnia and Herzegovina border. With easy border formalities we left the coast behind us and drove into the dramatic hills and beautiful landscape that the region is famous for.
We arrived at Medjugorje with enough time for people to explore the town whose tourist industry has benefitted greatly from the sightings (although the Catholic Church has declared the sightings of the Virgin Mary to be unsubstantiated). Curiousity satisfied, we again boarded our bus and headed to Mostar, arriving as darkness fell, as we drove past lasting evidence of the Bosnian War with bombed out buildings lurking like ghosts. Tired but elated, we arrived at our hotel and checked in, happy to have made it safely to our home for the night. The cherry on the sundae to this exciting day showed up 15 minutes later with our bus, driver and luggage. Perfect.
I suppose it’s one of the funny things about travel. It would be nice if everything went to plan, but if everything went to plan, then it doesn’t allow for the freedom of spontaneity. Ever Garrison said “Adversity enhances this tale we called life” and I was fortunate to have a great group of travelers ready to seize the sense of adventure that adversity had laid in our path. And we all came out the better for it with a tale to tell.
Our group makes the trip across the strait from Hvar to Drvenik on the mainland of Croatia.
Our group makes the trip across the strait from Hvar to Drvenik on the mainland of Croatia.