We had originally planned to travel through Albania then up to Kosovo but while we were in Kotor a major earthquake hit Tirana, Albania a few days before we were to start that leg of our trip. After a bit of consideration a second earthquake hit the area and we decided it might not be the best time to be travelling there. In off season the options are more sparse for transportation and we had heard there was severe road damage. This setback provided a few positive advantages though. To see everything we wanted while in the area we had to forego any destination planning around the holidays. The route was pretty set to fit everything in. But now with that loop off the calendar we had some wiggle room to think about where we wanted to be for Christmas and New Years (and Katy’s birthday). After a few work back schedules we decided we could keep our general itinerary through Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, padding our visit days a bit, and be in Sofia, Bulgaria for Christmas (which is supposed to have a great city celebration). This would also allow us to do New Years in Bucharest and have a week or more left over to explore either Transylvania or other region nearby before we head back to the schengen region in January.
Also fortuitously, Dubrovnik was about halfway to Mostar, and the opening of their Christmas festival that we had watched them set up for the week previous would be opening the weekend we were traveling! So we booked a room for two nights and headed back for a terrific holiday street fair. Katy was literally bouncing with joy.
Dubrovnik Winter Festival
At the beginning of December, Dubrovnik old town is decorated with trees and lights and stages set up, and rows of wooden sheds set up on each side of the main avenue, each being a full bar with special holiday drinks, and these huge cauldrons of sausages. Each stand had a slightly different take on which sausages to serve and how to serve them. Everyone seemed to have their own recipe for mulled wine or “rum punch” which was a similar mulled style hot drink, and even mulled gin which I strangely really enjoyed (I’m not usually one for mulled wine) and I drank so many that the stand we were buying them from started just giving us drinks for free. Super nice guys!
First they held a lighting ceremony with singing and the lighting of the first advent candle, followed by a full concert with a local band called Frajle, a four female lead band that played Balkan style pop music and popular covers late into the night. Old town was packed with locals. Everyone seemed to know each other and were having a great time. We were treated very well. There are usually very few tourists around at this time of year.
While waiting for a couple of friends that we had met on the bus from Kotor, two local men sat down with us and we got to chat about the city. One of the men’s nephews was running a food stall and we got to meet him as well. They were very kind to us and we really enjoyed the conversation. We probably had a few too many mulled wines and gins and sausages but we had a great time and it was everything that we wanted it to be.
The Sausage Cauldrons
These things were fantastic! Every shack seemed to have it’s own cauldron with a stove pipe bubbling away. The sausages are cooked in the water which gets progressively thicker and more flavorful. Cooked sausages are piled around the rim and then reheated when ordered in the broth. In addition to sausages some vendors included other kinds of meat or cabbage rolls and one guy used the broth to cook a thick bean stew which was included with the sausage. He ran out before we could try it unfortunately.
Soparnik is a traditional Croatian chard pie. They’re usually smaller but they had these enormous ones that they portioned out with a piece of wood as a guide.
Mulled wine, mulled gin, and rum punch
Every stand seemed to have some variation of one of these. Everyone had their own recipe and seemed to be really proud of it. No store mixes here. Mulled wine is what you expect, hot red wine with spices. The mulled gin mixed gin from the bottle with a hot liquid mixture that was sweet and spiced. Not quite as strong as the wine, I liked it better. It almost had a light cherry taste. I can’t remember how many I had (unfortunately). Rum punch has been a unique thing here. I’m used to the cold tropical variety but here it’s a hot drink. It’s essentially a hot broth of fruit and spices with rum. At one place we got it in Bol it was just rum and hot water.
Our favorite sausage shack with the mulled gin