I’ts all about King Ludwig – the anticipated visit to Neuschwanstein Castle

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Our destination for the day was The Hotel Sommer in the Bavarian town of Fussen. Located on the banks of the river Lech, it was the perfect pitstop for our visit to Neuschwanstein Castle. We had a chance to experience a portion of the famous Romantic Road for the drive here from Munich. We meandered […]

Germany – Munich, the land of the white sausage

Our destination of Munich was a much-anticipated one by Lucas. Only one thought was on his mind – food. Lucas is a lover of food but more so a lover of a good sausage. We all know the Germans are great at making sausage, so on the agenda for the next three days was a search for the best sausage in Munich – Weisswurst. This traditional white sausage of Bavaria is normally eaten for breakfast so we had to forfeit day one as we were already too late for a sample of this delicacy as we pulled up to our hotel just after midday.

Checking-in to our hotel was no easy feat . The large Westin Grand Hotel Munich seemed to have a very large amount of business conference delegates arriving the same time as us. German precision was definitely not evident here, it took us a good hour to receive our room key and head up to our room. After a quick refresh we pulled out our winter woolies (the warm weather had finally left us for good) and headed into the rain. This pestering weather has followed us all the way from Slovenia.

The hotel is located in the district of Bogenhausen, just a short walk to the Old town and the central square Marienplatz. Lucas was the first to eye out a large Bavarian restaurant the “Rathskeller” famous for its sausage. And so it was, we experienced our first Bavarian meal (there were many more), too late for Weisswurst Lucas settled on a local favourite, schnitzel. The atmosphere was spot on, surrounded by gothic architecture, the vaulted ceilings resonated the sounds of the fellow tourists and locals and tourist alike were enjoying pints of beer and copious amounts of sausage, schnitzel and baked potatoes. We happily tucked into our meals as the rain continued to drizzle outside. With our top jean buttons undone we planned our next few days in Munich. Allanah voted for the Glockenspiel, the famous clock that chimes a few times a day (easy just a hop, skip and a jump from where we were right now). Lucas had his sights on the foodie tour, John voted for the BMW museum and Thomas our resident history buff wanted to know more about the crazy King Ludwig.

Hanging out in Marienplatz - Munich

Hanging out in Marienplatz – Munich

Cuddles in the main square -Marienplatz - Munich

Cuddles in the main square -Marienplatz – Munich

Thomas finds his namesake store in the square

Thomas finds his namesake store in the square

After a good night’s sleep,(the beds are really comfy at the Wesitn), we woke to more rain and miserable weather. This was to persist throughout our whole stay. Umbrellas in hand we set off to Marienplatz to watch the Glockenspiel play its tune. We stood with hundreds of others and watched this old cuckoo clock which portrays the city’s history play its tune for 15 minutes. Allanah did tire of it after five minutes and was ready to go!

Close by is the famous Munich Farmers Market Viktualienmarkt in Peterplatz. We spent hours strolling through tasting many Bavarian specialties. An array of exotic fruits, spices, cheese, game, meats and of course German sausages are on display. The market has been in the same place since the 1800’s and is full of locals and tourists enjoying all the delicacies on offer in the various Biergarten’s throughout the market. There is a beautiful Maypole in the centre which carries figurines displaying the different trades and crafts in Munich. Maypoles date from the middle ages when most people were illiterate. The maypole represented the capabilities and trades of the village to travelling salesmen and craftsmen looking for a new master to learn from.

On the foodie trail we couldn’t leave Munich without visiting the famous and luxurious surroundings of the famous store “Dallmayr”. This amazing food store has been around just as long as the market. We couldn’t resist and were foolish enough to buy some delicatessen goodies and cheese at inflated prices to enjoy back at the hotel. We weren’t disappointed! Yum…

Allanah @ Westin Grand Hotel Munich

Enjoying our Dallmayr purchases

Enjoying our Dallmayr purchases

On a more serious and sombre note we had to touch on the subject of WWII and the atrocities that occurred during that time as Munich had an important part to play in this  history. The Bavarian capital was the birth place of the Nazi party. Adolf Hitler started the Nazi movement after WWI and set up headquarters at a famous Beer Hall, the Hofbrauhaus. The boys were very keen to do a tour about the Third Reich but Allanah just couldn’t cope with the discussions we were having about WWII and we decided it was not quite time to expose her to the horrors that occurred during that time. The closest we were able to touch on the subject in her presence was to visit Hofbrauhaus and sit in the spot Hitler would stand to hold National Socialist meetings at the Beer Hall. Lucas was finally able to sample the famous Weisswurst and get his first swig of beer.

Our next adventure took us further afield to the Olympiapark area and the BMW Museum. I personally have no interest in said automobile but begrudgingly admit that it was a worthwhile excursion. Here the German trait of perfect execution and precision is fully exhibited in this amazing museum transporting you through the history of BMW and its technical development. We were all pleasantly surprised as John was the only one who was keen, all of us enjoyed the experience. It’s interactive, visual and the architecture of the building is amazing.

The BMW Museum

The BMW Museum

BMW Museum

BMW Museum

BMW Museum

BMW Museum

On our last day in Munich we had to touch on the history of the Bavarian royals. The kids had been discussing King Ludwig (the mad King) or as he may be better known the king of the fairy tale castle “Schloss Neuschwanstein”.  As we were heading to this famous castle the following day we decided to visit King Ludwig’s birthplace, the Nymphenburg Palace. The palace was the summer residence of the Bavarian monarchs. Baroque architecture reigns supreme, one of the largest royal residences of Europe we spent many hours exploring the palace and its enormous grounds.

One of the highlights of the palace tour was Ludwig I’s Gallery of Beauties, a collection of 36 portraits of the most beautiful women from the nobility and middle classes of Munich in the 1800’s. Did he have a thing for the ladies mmmm….

One of the Beauties -Antoine Wallinger - daughter of the Court Theater Manager

One of the Beauties -Antoine Wallinger – daughter of the Court Theater Manager

Cornelia von Kunsberg - daughter of the Bavarian State Councillor

Cornelia von Kunsberg – daughter of the Bavarian State Councillor

Helene Sedelmayer-daughter of a shoemaker from Munich

Helene Sedelmayer-daughter of a shoemaker from Munich

The interiors of Nymphenburg Palace

The interiors of Nymphenburg Palace

The Queen's bedroom - King Ludwig II's birthplace

The Queen’s bedroom – King Ludwig II’s birthplace

We were all lucky enough to find this Palace fascinating, the kids had a tactile history lesson on Bavarian history. Whether this will be beneficial in years to come who knows, but the wealth of knowledge we have all accumulated on topics we never would have discussed sitting at home are astronomical. The boredom for the Allanah or Lucas does set in every now and again but a run in the park or a promise of a visit to what’s on top of their list tends to curb any tantrums lurking.

After a walk through the elaborate Coach house and a stroll through the grounds we once again pleased Lucas’ appetite when we stumbled upon a little gem of a Bavarian restaurant called Schlosswirtschaft Schwaige. What a pleasant surprise, the food was delicious, nothing out of the ordinary, the basics of a good schnitzel and potatoes, but when close to tourist attractions food expectations are set very low. We fed the brood and headed back to the hotel for a promised swim in the pool before bed time. Tomorrow is a travelling day. Off to King Ludwig’s Castle “Schloss Neuschwanstein” in the village of Hohenschwangau.

Austria – A day in the Old Town of Salzburg

As we drove along the Autobahn rolling hills of green unfolded before us. Glimpses of castles appeared here and there on top of green mountains. Our mood changed for the better. We were full of good humour more than excited as we whizzed by road advertising with comments like “Gute Fahrt!” Austrian for “Have a good trip” but in the English language this was cause for bursting fits of laughter from the back seat. The kids couldn’t help themselves, spending a good portion of our drive asking each other in they had “a good fart”! The joy children get from discussing their bodily functions seizes to amaze me!

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“Have a good trip”

We arrived into Salzburg and were ushered into the beautiful and quaint Hotel Goldener Hirsch. Located across from the Festival Hall and down the street from Mozart’s house. The perfect spot for a quick overnight glimpse of Salzburg old town. We were lucky enough to be given interconnecting rooms with a view over the Getreidegasse. The hotel was most accommodating even though we had booked less than 24 hours ago. We unpacked a few items and settled into our eclectically decorated room  and the rain set in. 

Hotel Goldener Hirsch Our quaintly decorated hotel roomA quick schnitzel to replenish our energy and a family discussion on what was to be the course of our day as the clock was ticking and our day would soon be over.

Top choice was Mozart’s house, and we all decided with the bad weather persisting we would just stick to the Old town and stroll the streets.

Wolfgang Mozart was born in 1756 and just a short walk from our hotel was his home and birthplace. The house was built in the 12th century and the Mozart’s rented the apartment on the third floor. Nowadays the whole building is dedicated to Mozart, giving a great insight not only to Wolfgang but his whole musical family. It was interesting to discover that his sister Maria Anna was also extremely talented and was a child prodigy herself, but as she was a female her talent was not to be encouraged or exploited as Wolfgang’s was. After an extended grand family tour to display the children’s talents Anna Maria was to stay at   home with her mother while Wolfgang further traveled with his father to extend his career.

After a very interesting tour of the austere family home and museum we stepped out onto the Getreidegasse and made our way down the narrow streets dipping into charming old-world shops selling christmas decorations, hand-made leather goods and traditional costumes. The baroque architecture is purely magical and we couldn’t help but linger and admire this decorative and colourful construction that we don’t often get to enjoy in our part of the world.

In the span of an afternoon we managed to fit a visit to Mozart’s monument in the main square, the stunning Salzburg Cathedral, and the Hohensalzburg fortress which rewarded us with stunning views over the town.  Hohensalzburg Fortress, built in 1077 by Archbishop Gebhard is the largest, fully preserved fortress in central Europe. Since 1892 the fortress can be reached by funicular railway. The walk up would be steep indeed if that was the only option.  The fortress looms over the town and is definitely imposing and well worth the visit, but the most interesting sight and the one that has embedded in my mind is the The Petersfriedhof or St. Peter’s Cemetery.

Salzburg Cathedral

Salzburg Cathedral

Salzburg Cathedral

Salzburg Cathedral

Not having done any home work on Salzburg we were lucky enough to stumble upon one of the most beautiful and peaceful cemetaries I have ever seen. it is not often you can marry the word beautiful with cemetery but that is the best word to describe how we felt when we came upon this place. The tombstones are made of intricate iron-scrollwork crosses, impeccably maintained with colourful flowers in bloom. The catacombs loom overhead almost, but the feeling is peaceful and calming walking through the old graves.

It is the oldest cemetery in Salzburg, located at the foot of the Festungsberg with Hohensalzburg Castle. We did not realise at the time but it is one of the most popular attractions of Salzburg. Its origins date back to about 700. The abbey’s cemetery, probably at the site of an even earlier burial place, was first mentioned in an 1139 deed, the oldest tombstone dates to 1288. Closed in 1878, the site decayed until in 1930 the monks of St. Peter’s successfully urged for the admission of new burials.

Petersfriedhof - Salzburg

Petersfriedhof – Salzburg

Petersfriedhof - Salzburg

Petersfriedhof – Salzburg

Petersfriedhof - Salzburg

Petersfriedhof – Salzburg

Our day in Salzburg was a memorable one and our first taste of Austria. Thomas was quietly excited as he sampled a taste of what was to come as he is to return the following year with his school Musical tour.

We casually meandered through the streets sampling a pretzel here and a donut there, Austrian street food was Lucas’ highlight! We managed not to even cross the left bank of Salzach river as time was not on our side. A tiny taste of Austria was enough for us to know we had to come back in the future. The 19th-century Neustadt (New City) and the rolling hills depicted in the musical “The Sound of Music” will have to be explored .Thomas is the lucky one, he’ll be back very soon.

Salzburg

Salzburg

Salzburg

Salzburg

Where are we again?

Where are we again?

Salzburg

Salzburg

Salzburg

Salzburg

Slovenia – A little gem…blink and it’s gone

Slovenia was a sweet little surprise. Words to describe the capital of Ljubljana would be quaint, cute, bohemian and hip. Blink and you would miss this country, only half the size of Switzerland, bordered by four countries; Croatia, Italy, Austria and Hungary.

We arrived late in the afternoon leaving Plitvice National Park as late as we could (we couldn’t tear the kids away). We stayed at the beautiful Antiq Palace Hotel in a serviced apartment which had us in the most vibrant district of this little old city. We’d settled in and were ready to step out into the cobblestone streets when the rain started. This was to be a constant in our travels for the next week.

Heavy rain sets in - Ljubljana, Slovenia

Heavy rain sets in – Ljubljana, Slovenia

Our time in this little country was limited, a mere four days, so with umbrellas in hand we set out to explore the city. The old town is a blend of Baroque, Renaissance, and Art Nouveau buildings, watched over by a medieval castle. A river running alongside creates a serene outlook as you stroll along the stone path bordering the river. The city seemed alive with circus performers, folk bands, singing on street corners and the cafes and restaurants were in abundance.

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The river promenade - Ljubljana

The river promenade – Ljubljana

Street performers in Ljubljana - Slovenia

Street performers in Ljubljana – Slovenia

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The Plečnik Farmers’ market and Triple Bridge were just a few steps away from where we were staying so we spent the couple of days we had here strolling through the streets and ducking in to eat at the market or have a coffee to escape the rain.

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Triple Bridge

Art in the streets

Art in the streets

Butcher's Bridge - Ljubljana's love bridge

Butcher’s Bridge – Ljubljana’s love bridge

Enjoying fresh berries from the market- Ljubljana

Enjoying fresh berries from the market- Ljubljana

Selecting berries at the market - Ljubljana

Selecting berries at the market – Ljubljana

Our next destination in Slovenia was Lake Bled. We set off early from Ljubljana hoping to escape the rain but unfortunately the rain had other ideas. It continued and continued and by the time we reached Lake Bled it was torrential rain. I will not mention where we stayed here as we actually cut our time here short due to the very cold and uninviting host at the small hotel/B&B we had chosen.

We arrived just before midday, parking our car in front of the property and dashing inside from the rain. The first response we get is not a welcome but an abrupt ” You can’t check-in yet, don’t you know check-in is at 3pm” With a raised eyebrow we responded that we were well aware of the time but due to the rain thought it best to park our car and maybe get a recommendation for somewhere to eat. In a gruff voice we were told to walk down the street and we would find something.

We set off in the rain and found a little restaurant just above the lake. We were so taken aback by the attitude of the manager/owner we were a bit hesitant in turning up to check in, we felt like a group of naughty school children terrified to turn up to the school principals office.

Avoiding another meeting with our hotel owner we decided there was no better time than now to set off and explore Lake Bled. Row boats are for hire so we set off on the lake heading toward the island located in the centre of Lake Bled.

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This famous island (Otok) can only be reached by pletna, the flat-bottomed wooden boat hand steered by oarsman for centuries. Thomas was to be our man of the day. Steering with great difficulty, the current was quite strong,he rowed us all the way in misty rain to the island.

We climbed the 98 steps leading up to the church where for years Slovenian grooms carry their brides to assure a long and happy life together.

The 98 Steps leading to the church - Bled

The 98 Steps leading to the church – Bled

Legend has it that if you ring the bell inside the castle’s Church of the Assumption and make a wish, it’ll come true. So of course the kids scrambled and fought to be first to ring the bell.

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The weather was starting to set in and the rain had increased so after some bell ringing we hopped back into our boat and set off back to the shore.

We were lucky enough to stroll back to our accommodation with a slight drizzle and a new person at reception. A warmer friendly tone checked us in and gave us a little tour before we settled into our rooms to change out of our damp clothes and reassess what we were to do for the next 48 hours. We were limited in our walking expeditions in this small resort town and the dark clouds continued to hover the rain progressively got worse as the early evening set in. We couldn’t bear a whole day sitting inside in a small hotel/B&B with three children and an uninviting owner. We felt very uncomfortable shushing the children every few minutes so we wouldn’t get a complaint. Food would help us decide whether to stay put, grin and bear it or forfeit a paid night’s accommodation and move on.

We stumbled upon the restaurant “Okarina” merely by chance and later discovered it was one of the best in the area. A strange mix of Indian, italian and Slovenian game dishes. The kids chose pasta and we were content to try the Wild Boar cutlets and filets of Venison. We walked away full and satisfied and with decision made we trudged through the pouring rain and straight on to the internet to book something for the next day.

We woke the next morning with a determination to get out as fast as we could. The owner refused to give us a refund, not even for one of the rooms, but offered breakfast instead. We accepted, ate our breakfast in eerie silence as no one not even the breakfast staff spoke, heads down, no smile, getting on with their business. We were the only ones in the breakfast room, even the kids felt the vibe whispering whenever they had something to say. Very strange…

We carried our bags downstairs and were out before 09:00am. We’re off to Salzburg, Austria!

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Croatia- A brief respite in Plitvice Lakes National Park

As we left the city of Split behind we were ready for a bit of nature and calm. As we drove the 280km from Split to Plitvice we left behind the motorways and entered a serene world of woodlands and differing shades of green. The picturesque Plitvice Lakes National Park is an area of 300sq km covered in lakes and forest.

We arrived at our accommodation choosing Ethno Houses Plitvica Selo http://www.ethnoplitvice.com as they were located in the heart of the National Park. What a wonderful choice!! The perfect set up for families. The kids were instantly out of the car and running around to explore. The accommodation is a set up of very quaint wooden cabins perfectly suited to a family with a kitchenette and plenty of space to spread out. We were in a family suite and there was more than enough room for our family of five.

Not only were we located only 400 metres from the highest waterfall in the heart of Plitvice Lakes National Park, we had a choice of many activities on hand to try like cycling along marked routes, archery, bowling, badminton, miniature golf, table-tennis, darts and hanging bowling.

Mini golf at Ethno Houses

Mini golf at Ethno Houses

The kids were kept entertained with the outdoor obstacle course, the mini ZOO and even the pet Vietnamese pig. They weren’t even interested in venturing out to the park as they were so enthralled in all the joy of running around and playing with all the animals.

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We finally dragged ourselves away from this wonderful place and headed off to the starting point. Paths, mostly made of wooden planks or gravel have been built and take you through the whole park. We started with an Electric boat that transported us and hordes of tourists (this wasn’t even high season) to the beginning of the trail.

Electric boat at Plitvice

Electric boat at Plitvice

The paths meander through the park allowing you to take in the most awe inspiring beauty, the colours and calmness you feel as you walk through the park cannot be described. It’s like you’ve entered a movie set to some fantasy movie like “Lord of the Rings”.  A walk from one end of the park to the other normally takes around four hours but there are so many wonderful views it took us around 6 hours to meander through the park.

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The only drawback to this extraordinary place is the amount of tourists, but how could one complain when we are exactly that! There are many instances where the path is extremely narrow and there is no way to take over the person in front of you if they have stopped for a moment. This in turn causes a back log of people stopping dead in their tracks wondering what is going on ahead. The feeling of being rushed deters from the serene surroundings and brings you back with a thump knowing your still in this modern day crazy rushed world.

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We only spent one night here thinking it would be enough. Looking back we should of stayed longer. I’m sure that if we’d started our hike at the very beginning of the day we would of been able to avoid the tourist buses coming in for their day trip. Our accommodation was so comfortable we could of relaxed at the end of the day with a sauna or a good book and glass of wine.

Wherever we travelled in Croatia we had the same thought..it wasn’t long enough. This country is full of amazing surprises, from it’s dramatic Adriatic coastline through to it’s emerald green lakes and wooded forests, we merely touched the surface of a truly extraordinary country. It won’t be long before we are back to take a more in depth look at this little corner of the world.

Croatia – Royal Splendours in Split

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Our time in Dubrovnik ended much too soon but we had more to see of this wonderful diverse country. We packed our newly acquired Croatian rent-a-car jamming all the luggage we had accumulated on our trip and headed for Split. The drive from Dubrovnik to Split is one of the best scenic routes of Croatia. […]

Bosnia and Herzegovina – A day swimming with snakes in Kravice Falls and exploring the Ottoman town of Mostar

We had heard so much about this little gem of a town in Bosnia and Herzegovina we decided to take a side trip and visit for the day. We did have our own car but were advised to take a driver to guide through the mostly unposted roads. We were glad we did. Once we crossed the Croatian border it was evident we were “not in Kansas anymore”.

The roads were pot holed and most of the major road signs were covered in graffiti. I don’t know if the driver took us through a sort of short cut as we were driving on small country roads without any clue as to the direction we should turn.

The war may have ended over 20 years ago, but it’s still everywhere: in the bombed-out shells of buildings are still everywhere, abandoned villages overgrown. At the same time, those war remnants are mixed with beautiful countryside.

We had never heard of Kravice Falls until our guide started winding down the mountain and parked in a graveled clearing. He then explained to the kids to slide down the steep path as we toddled slipping and sliding down a well worn muddy track. A rumbling sound could be heard close by but we did not expect to see one of the most beautiful scenic waterfalls before us. Void of mass tourism this place was truly a pleasure. Kravice is a waterfall on the Trebižat River in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The waterfall was created by the Trebižat river with its tuff deposits, and has been declared a natural phenomenon which is under state protection. Tuff is typical for rivers rich in calcium carbonate. Grass, moss and lichen grow on the tuff deposits. It is forty kilometers south of Mostar. Its height is between 25 metres and the radius of the lake in the base of the waterfall is 120 metres.

There is a small cafe/restaurant serving delicious grilled meats, a wooden walkway leading you to the waterfall and a handful of people, mainly locals.

Walking to the Kravice Falls - Bosnia

Walking to the Kravice Falls – Bosnia

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The wooden path leading to the falls - Kravice

The wooden path leading to the falls – Kravice

The kids were quick to strip down to their swimming togs and take a dip. They tip toed to the edge of the river bank and dipped their toes in. It was freezing, on average the pools are around 10 degrees celsius. Thomas opted out but the other two dived in.

I didn’t think they’d last long especially when they realised there were water snakes having a swim with them also (harmless I was told).

Kravice waterfall - Bosnia

Kravice waterfall – Bosnia

Enjoying a cool off - Kravice waterfalls

Enjoying a cool off – Kravice waterfalls

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That’s as crowded as it get at Kravice – Bosnia

Did Allanah notice the snakes?

Did Allanah notice the snakes?

Luckily they didn’t even notice any snakes as I’m sure the echo of Allanah’s screams would of cleared every human being from the area. The freezing cold temperature of the water had them out and refreshed in fifteen minutes.

Enough time to enjoying our Bosnian meal, dry off and head back up the path and onto our destination of Mostar.

As we pulled up to Mostar we were handed over to our Bosnian tour guide. Tensions here still run high and it is law that only an official Bosnian tour guide can guide you through Mostar or any other tourist sight in this country. Mostar endured more bombings than any other Bosnian city, and its scars show. The city’s Red Cross building is still speckled with bullet holes, and just a few blocks past the borders of Old Town, there are cemeteries. The death dates on the gravestones are devastatingly consistent: 1993. 1993. 1993. 1993.

For nine months in 1993, Mostar was under siege, and its people were entirely cut off from electricity and access to food. It was the year that those cemeteries filled, and then overfilled, with young men. It was also the year that Stari Most, the elegant bridge that had connected the city over the Neretva River for 427 years, was destroyed.

The famous Stari Most- Old Bridge

The famous Stari Most- Old Bridge

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Originally built by the Turks in 1566, after it was it was rebuilt in 2004 as an exact replica. The bridge is 21m high and you will frequently see members of the Mostar Diving Club dive off the bridge.

The town has kept a truly Ottoman feel, We walked to the Koski Mehemed Pasha Mosque to take in the 360 degree view of the Neretva Valley from atop the mosque’s minaret.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Thomas taking in the view – Mostar / It is apparent that the war is still raw here…many casualties 

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Neretva River

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Buildings just outside the the Old town of Mostar still bullet ridden. – Bosnia

There are plenty of other sights around town — religious buildings, historic houses and the Herzegovina Museum. Speaking to our tour guide made us realise that even though they are trying to forget the past tensions continuously rear their ugly head. Bosnia and Herzegovina is now an independent state, but under international administration. Its three main ethnic groups are Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), Croats and Serbs. The war left Bosnia’s infrastructure and economy in tatters. Around two million people – about half the population – were displaced. Around two million people – about half the population – were displaced. It is considered one of the most corruption-prone states in Europe, mainly on account of the legacy of deep ethnic and political divisions left by the 1992-1995 war.

As it was explained to us over 50% off mixed ethnic marriages ended in divorce due to the division left by the war. A bitter pill to swallow I think.