Monday, 27 March 2017

Montenegro - The Black Mountain

Sveti Stefan in Budva Montenegro one of Montenegro's most iconic sights

By Brett Goulston

If you didn’t know that Montenegro was a country, don’t despair 
 you’re not on your own! While many travelers from Australia have discovered neighbouring Croatia as a fabulous destination, not so many have ventured further afield to Montenegro. The James Bond film Casino, partly filmed in beautiful Montenegro, certainly helped raise awareness.

Montenegro is a small country nestled among the rest of the Balkan countries. Part of the old Yugoslavia and for just a few years part of the Union of Serbia, it became an autonomous, self-governed sovereign state in 2006. Its name means Black Mountain and looking in from the coast, the name makes sense as the mountains make a stunning back drop.  

While there may not be many reasons to visit the capital and largest city, Podgorica, the region along the Adriatic Sea beckons with much to see and do.

Hercev Novi, along the bay of Kotor, is a lovely medieval town with magnificent views of the bay, beautiful old churches (the Archangel Michael in particular) and great restaurants and cafés. People-watching over a coffee in the main square will provide a good feel for local life. Most of the action, like so often in Europe, is in the Old Town, or Stari Grad in the local language. 

Budva is another delightful town on the Adriatic. Ignore all the new fancy apartments along the beach and instead for a cultural hit, go straight to the well-preserved medieval walled city. The cobble-stoned streets – all beautifully restored – offer a serene hour or two of strolling.

From a tourist perspective the Bay of Kotor and the old city of Kotor are probably the highlights of this small nation. A drive around the bay provides stunning views and a meal stop with a few hours wandering throughout the town is a must-do.  Take a ferry across the bay if you don’t want to double back as the islands of St. George and Our Lady of the Rocks, make for perfect photos on a sunny day. 

Blue Dot travel to Montenegro on our tour of the Balkan Counties. Click here for a detailed itinerary which includes your trip to Montenegro

Map of Montenegro within the Balkans

Church of St. Archangel Michael, Herceg Novi old town, Montenegro

Breathtaking view of Kotor Bay Montenegro

Medieval clock tower, Kotor

Old city ramparts of Kotor listed as World Heritage by UNESCO

Kotor - the prettiest & best preserved town

Beautiful quaint old architecture abounds

Monday, 20 March 2017

Macedonia’s Lake Ohrid - the oldest lake in Europe

Church of St John looking onto the lake

By Brett Goulston 

There’s often confusion when Macedonia is discussed because 
– depending who you talk to – there are two Macedonias. There’s Macedonia, the small independent country on the Balkan Peninsula which was part of the former Yugoslavia, and there’s Macedonia, a northern region of Greece. The issue over the naming of the country goes back a long way but even today you might see the country called FYROM on a map, an acronym for Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia. 

Macedonia – the country – is a beautiful, mountainous, land-locked nation with sophisticated cities and ancient rural villages. The fact it’s less than half the size of Tasmania means it’s easy to get around. The people are generally very friendly and happy to chat with the tourists. If you like your history, then you will not be disappointed as most of the great empires in the region came and conquered at some stage leaving their mark.  

The highlight and the most popular place for both holidaying locals and overseas tourists, is without doubt, the stunning Lake Ohrid. This 350 square km lake is thought to be among the oldest lakes in the world. A boat trip on the deep blue surface is a must and for just a few euros, you can explore the shore around the main township.   

The main cobble-stoned street of the township seems to go on for ever and is lined with restaurants, cafés and shops. Allow at least an hour to stroll, more if 
– like me – you like to sit and watch the world go by.    

Samuel’s Fortress in the Old Town, built in the 10th century by the Bulgarian rulers of the time, 
is definitely worth a visit. The town has many churches including the beautiful Church of St John, originally built in the 15th century but recently renovated. There’s also an ancient Hellenistic theatre that dates back to 200BC which even today is still used for various public performances.  

My best advice is to allow at least two days. Try and get to a cultural performance while you are there: traditional dance and song is taught to the school children and their performances are very uplifting.  

Blue Dot Travel visits Lake Ohrid on our tour of the Balkan Counties. Click here for a detailed itinerary which includes your trip to Macedonia. 

Macedonia location on the Balkans' map

Brett Goulston from Blue Dot Travel enjoying the view of the lake

View from Samuel's Fortress

Orhid's Ancient Theatre

Monday, 13 March 2017

Kaziranga National Park - Assam, North East India - UNESCO World Heritage Centre

By Brod Brennan

The rays of the early morning sun bounced off the water drops on the giant elephant grass as our mahout steered his 37-year-old elephant on our 5.00am morning safari. The conga line of elephants fell in behind our lead mahout as their baby elephants complained loudly to their mothers about reluctantly trailling our herd. Elephants and their masters, called mahouts, form a long bond in India - ours had been together for 27 years.

We were in the Kaziranga National park in remote north east India, home to over 2,400 one-horned rhino, some 100 Bengal tigers, 2,000 Asiatic wild buffalo,1,200 Asian elephants and the last surviving population of eastern swamp deer. The park was created by Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, in 1906 following the near decimation of the rhino population by hunters and poachers.

Today the population of these endangered animals is thriving thanks to an active program of anti poaching guards working around the clock to safeguard all these magnificent animals. Located in the fertile Brahmaputra Valley in the state of Assam, the low lying lakes provide a natural water environment for the rhinos, elephants and buffalo all of which are excellent swimmers. They need to be, as the annual monsoons flood the entire park. Whilst most animals find their way to higher ground, some seek refuge on the state highway which is forced to close for around 2 weeks each year whilst it becomes a temporary noah’s ark of safe ground for the park’s wildlife!

India’s wildlife is a unexpected surprise to our travellers on our Nagaland and North East India tour. The tour is centred around the fabulous Hornbill Festival which brings together 14 of the remote hill tribes to celebrate their ancient cultures. The tribes and wildlife of India are just another dimension to the many faces that make India a fascinating destination.

Your trip to North East India includes the Hornbill Festival November 2017 with Blue Dot Travel Click here.

Kaziranga National Park is in India's north east

Asiatic wild bater buffalo trail-side

Some of our line of elephants

North-east India's one-horned rhino are preserved in the park

India's last population of eastern swamp dear

There's a healthy population of elephants

Plenty of photo opps on any safari in the park

Monday, 6 March 2017

Travelling through Kyrgyzstan

On the road in Kyrgyzstan
By Gemma Cagnacci

With an average elevation of 3000 metres and over 90% of the country covered in mountains, you’re in for a treat when travelling throughout Kyrgyzstan. After being in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan the difference once you cross the border is almost instant as not only the terrain changes, but so too how the Kyrgyz live.

Yes, there are beautiful destinations and stops within this Central Asian nation, but it is the landscape and everyday scenes taking place as you travel throughout the countryside that make travelling throughout Kyrgyzstan breathtaking. It also makes those long journeys much easier, and in fact you might not want to stop! 
The green rolling hills, grasslands with higher snow-capped mountains behind are epic. Added to this are horses running around and lakes dotted throughout the country, often with yurts set up as nomads bring their livestock to elevated areas in the summer for feeding. It is quite a contrast to the desert-like regions of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and a welcome, refreshing change.

My suggestion - get your window seat, sit back, play some of your favourite tunes on your portable music device and enjoy the epic journey!

Book your trip to Kyrgyzstan and the rest of ‘the Stans’ with Blue Dot! Click here.

An expansive landscape awaits - you're well off the beaten path!

Yurts in the distance

The enormity of the mountains and the sky dwarf the yurts and livestock

Livestock is moved to mountains during the summer months

The roads twist their way through the mountains

Epic scenery  makes for challenging road trips!

With every mountain range comes an equally beautiful valley