This entry, like all entries to come, has been written after the trip has ended. This particular entry is being written even longer after the events took place as we visited Bosnia and Herzegovina in between Montenegro and Serbia, with plans to return. However, like the best plans throughout history, we didn’t follow it and never ended up getting back.
The reasoning behind this is that we were going to visit the north of Bosnia and Herzegovina when we went to Croatia, which was meant to be after Serbia. At the time, we were hitting some pretty intense temperatures, hovering around the 44 degree mark, which was seriously hampering our ability to actually get out and see things. We made the decision to head north from Serbia and revisit Croatia later in the trip. Unfortunately, by the time we got back to Croatia, we never got the opportunity to go back to Bosnia. Such is the way of things.
So, with that in mind, I suppose I should start the actual blog entry…
Our trip into Bosnia and Herzegovina from Montenegro was via the same transfer service that we had used previously. We got some strange looks from other passengers as we greeted the driver like an old friend, and got settled in for our ride to the medieval town of Mostar.
We stayed at a pension not far from the centre of town, and had the place mostly to ourselves. The old town itself is anchored by the “Stari Most”, or Old Bridge, from which the town gets it’s name. Built by the Ottomans in the 1500s, the bridge towers 29 meters above the Neretva river, providing passage from one half of the old town to the other. Locals will sometimes stand at it’s apex and for a few euros, dive into the icy water below. Sadly we never got the chance to see it, which is surprising as the temperatures were well into the 40s for most of our stay.
Next to the river is a Bazaar that felt like a little slice of Istanbul, with merchants selling Turkish Delight, and Bosnian Coffee, which is more or less Turkish Coffee. One aspect that you didn’t get in Istanbul, at least in the places we looked, was that if you peeked into the back of some of the shops, you could see skilled craftsmen producing their wares. It made the whole place feel more authentic.
We spent much of our time trying to escape the heat. This usually involved sitting down and relaxing while having a beer or a coffee by the river in one of the many cafes that provided much needed shade. However, we did venture out into other parts of town, where more recent history makes itself prominent.
The politics surrounding the conflict in Mostar in the early 90s are rather complex, so I won’t go into detail. There is plenty of information in Wikipedia if you are curious. The conflict I am referring to is the Bosnian war, and Mostar is where a lot of fighting occurred.
There are still stark reminders of this fighting in the form of impact craters and bullet holes in footpaths and buildings. Some surfaces were augmented with street art, while some buildings are still standing in much the same state as they were 23 years ago, mere skeletons riddled with bullet holes and artillery damage. While I was aware of the fighting in this area, and had done some reading into the conflict, it is all just words and ideas until you see the results for yourself, and even then, it is impossible to imagine what it truly must have been like at the time without being there.
After a few days in Mostar, we headed towards Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Upon arrival, we were hot, tired and just wanted to get to our hostel, so we decided to spring for a taxi. We had an idea of how much it would cost, and the driver kindly quoted double this amount. For a moment, I was going to try and bargain with him, but at this point, I was simply too weary. Besides, although he quoted double, the actual amount was not all that much, so we didn’t lose out too much.
At the time we were there, the temperatures were in the high 30s and sometimes in the 40s, which made getting out and about during the middle of the day somewhat difficult. In Mostar, our hostel had great air conditioning, so we could seek refuge back in our room during the hottest times.
Unfortunately, when we arrived at our hostel in Sarajevo, we found that the “Air Conditioning” advertised when we booked online was actually a ceiling fan. And just to add insult to injury, it was in front of the light on the ceiling, so if you wanted to stay in the room after dark and leave the lights on, you would get a strobe effect. Let me tell you, this did not put me in the mood to party.
Regardless of our shit accommodation, the city was really quite enjoyable. In the old town section, there were cafes with mist makers (creating a cloud of mist that works like an evaporative cooler) serving ice cold beer under the much needed shade of umbrellas. We visited some of the more famous sites, including the spot where Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, an event which many historians beleive started World War 1.
When exploring this city, one thing that couldn’t be ignored was the scars of this city’s relatively recent past. Like Mostar, much fighting took place here during the Bosnian war, and during this time, the “Siege of Sarajevo”, which lasted almost four years, took it’s toll on the city and it’s people. Completely surrounded by The Army of Republika Srpska, from 1992 to early 1996 over 13,000 people including many civilians lost their lives.
We felt like there was more to see in Sarajevo, so we moved to a different hostel for a few days. This hostel was established by a man who lived and fought during the siege. Called the “War Hostel”, it was decorated with artefacts from during the conflict; we had a mortar shell embedded in our room’s wall, and opposite this a blast crater from the outside of another building was recreated, with a photo showing the original.
The owner had also built a replica bomb shelter in his basement, where he would show documentary films to guest. During one such viewing, he would pause the video and provide explanations and relate stories of his time during the war. In one such demonstration, he showed a “mine field” that he had created in a planter box about a meter wide by 40cm deep. He asked us to try and find all the mines. I was able to pick out 4 relatively easily, and thought that was it, but there was still another one that would have been impossible to see if you were just out walking. It really put things into perspective. During that time, one misplaced step could mean serious injury or death.
Our host related stories of some of the atrocities he witnessed, and was even brought to tears a number of times. The pain he suffered is something I can never fully understand, and it is plain to see that he still carries the trauma of his experiences with him. Our time at this hostel, while sometimes confronting, was overall a rewarding experience.
Bosnia and Herzegovina was perhaps the greatest eye opener for me for a war that occurred when my biggest concern was what Mum put in my lunchbox for school, or how fast I could ride my bike, and I feel like I have a just a little more perspective on the events of this time.
— Thomas 2016.06.05
If you want to get in contact with me, shoot me an email at thomas[at]carbon.cx. Just remember to swap the [at] with @. This stops robots from scraping my email address and spamming me.