With a bit of a delay we’re back with our report on week 3 of our one year of travel in which we traveled through Bosnia-Herzegovina. We’d booked an apartment on the Croatian Island of Korčula for five nights for some R&R and doing some work on our blog. Regretfully the wifi signal at our accommodation was so weak and intermittent that we were unable to upload the pics for our blog and the blog itself.
But now we’re connected again to tell you about our Bosnia-Herzegovina adventures since our visit to the Pliva falls and lakes in Jajce and about our return to Croatia. It’s a tale of pyramids, reminders of the 1990’s war, the famous bridge in Mostar and a little brother of the Chinese Wall.
En route to Sarajevo
Driving from Jajce to Bosnia’s capital Sarajevo – our second main destination in the country – we made a two hour stop in Travnik, a pleasant city with no real touristic highlights, but a good place to get a feel for real Bosnian life for a moment and to pay a short visit to yet some more castle ruins with a view (but less spectacular compared to the one in Omis we visited earlier).
We also passed by Visoko, the supposed location of some pyramids. There’s much scientific debate about the authenticity of the so-called pyramids, many calling it a hoax. To us they just looked like regular mountains. When the guy at the ticket office began rambling about it being some ancient astronomical map and earth vortexes we decided to split. We’re probably too level-headed to believe in stuff like that.
Bosnia war reminders
Driving through Bosnia we’d already noted that there are still many damaged buildings and houses showing bullet holes in the walls, like the building where we had an apartment for three nights in Sarajevo. We regularly also saw commemorative plaques on buildings, like schools, with the names of people who had died during the war.
It are the tell-tale signs of the early 1990’s war that led to the separation of Bosnia-Herzegovina from the former republic of Yugoslavia. It followed the example of Slovenia and Croatia, but had to pay much more dearly for it with four years of war, much devastation and over 100.000 deaths, including about 8.000 people at the infamous Srebrenica killings.
The reason the war wreaked so much more havoc in Bosnia compared to Slovenia and Croatia was that it was a culturally very diverse country with the Bosniaks not being a distinct majority. Even today this is clearly visible.
As we drove along the borders of the Pliva lakes we suddenly passed a sign saying that we’d entered the Republika Srpska, the part of Bosnia-Herzegovina that’s almost completely inhabited by Serbs. Most of them are dreaming of joining Serbia one day. You know you’re driving in Bosnia-Herzegovina when road signs mention place names in Latin script first and Cyrillic second. In the Republika Srpska it’s just the other way around.
Sarajevo Total Siege Tour
To get some more perspective on this war and the impact it had on the country we did the impressive Sarajevo Total Siege Tour by Sarajevo Funky Tours. The tour tells the story of the siege of Sarajevo between April 1992 and February 1996 and visits several of the key sites in the struggle for the city.
Guide and owner of Funky Tours, Skender, talked almost non-stop about the falling apart of former Yugoslavia into several new independent nations and the suffering of the city of Sarajevo, where over 11.000 people lost their lives through mortar shelling and sniper fire. Much of what he told was from his personal experience as a child in the war.
The four hour tour turned into five as we drove past several sites in Sarajevo, like Sniper Alley, visited the 800 meter long tunnel under the airport that became the life-line for the city and admired the views from Trebević Mountain where the Serbs held strategic positions.
Walking down the concrete remains of the graffiti sprayed Sarajevo 1984 Olympic bobsleigh and luge track located on the mountain was also part of the tour. All in all very impressive and moving.
Travel is not only about seeing beautiful things but also about learning from history. It’s hard to imagine what people can do to each other. Because we intend to visit all the countries that formed Yugoslavia until the early 1990’s, this tour gave us a lot of background for better understanding the complex circumstances that led to marshal Tito’s nation disintegrating.
Culturally diverse Sarajevo
But there’s more to Sarajevo of course than the war that ended a little over twenty years ago. Though it is something that many visitors are interested in, most people in Bosnia want to forget about it and move on. Sarajevo rebuilt itself, but many traces of history from before the war can still be found.
It was interesting to walk from east to west through the city, tracing the city’s history from the old Ottoman Baščaršija quarter to the communist influenced parts of the city passing neighborhoods dominated by Austrian-Hungarian architecture along the way. Though lacking real touristic highlights it’s cultural diversity is the biggest drawcard of the city, even after the war.
And the weirdest thing happened when after a heavy thunder storm the blue water of the Miljacka river turned milk chocolate brown….
There’s more to Mostar
From Sarajevo it was another extremely scenic drive – Bosnia-Herzegovina really is beautiful – to Mostar. The city is famous for its iconic 1566 stone bridge – Stari Most. Being on the frontline during the Bosnia war it was world news when the bridge got totally destroyed, like many other structures in this historic city.
More than in the other cities we visited the results of the war were still visible, but if you see old pictures from just after the war and visit now, it’s also clear that most damage has been fixed. It’s evident that the bridge is a reconstruction, but it doesn’t take away from one of the most beautiful sights in Europe.
There’s more to Mostar, however, than the bridge, as we discovered. We truly liked the atmosphere, its very scenic position on both sides of the Neretva river and we were delighted to find out that there’s even some great street art here, something we’d not expected at all. But we’re still wondering about that Bruce Lee statue…..
Day trip from Mostar
Mostar was also the perfect base to visit several sights south of the city. These made for an easy and really great day trip. First stop was the very picturesque Blagaj Tekija, a dervish house about 15 km south of Mostar, built in 15th century at the source of the Buna river.
From there it was a half hour drive to the small village of Počitelj in the Neretva valley. The former stronghold against the Ottomans dates back to the late 14th century and is inscribed as Unesco World Heritage. It was fun – and tough – to walk the steep stairs through the village, sometimes feeling you’re in old Turkey instead of Europe.
Last stop of the day were the Kravice waterfalls. Getting there took some more time than planned after we had the wait for an accident that had just happened – a motorcyclist had crashed into the back of a work lorry. After standing in the hot sun for half an hour we decided to find an alternative route and ended up in another traffic jam with people from both sides of the accident site trying to negotiate a narrow road with a half meter drop-off on both sides and just wide enough to let two cars pass each other, mirrors almost touching. It made for some interesting driving….
But the Kravice falls were worth it (only 2 euro entry….). The 26-28 meter high and 120 meter wide falls were a little bit like the lower falls at Krka National Park, the total park area however being much smaller. Like at Krka it was possible to swim in front of the falls. And like at Krka the water was very nippy.
Backdoor to Croatia
Driving back to Croatia we took some scenic back roads to avoid having to pass the Bosnian-Croatian border three times. Because of a small corridor connecting Bosnia-Herzegovina to the Adriatic Sea at the town of Neum – splitting the southern part of Croatia off from the rest of the country – the normal road from Mostar south to Croatia has the inconvenience of three border crossings. Apparently our route is used for illegal business as well as we got stopped by border police on the road to Neum.
Back in Croatia we dropped by the town of Ston on the way to Korčula. It has a 5,5 km long stone defensive wall connecting the lower and higher part of town. It’s the longest one in Europa and has been dubbed the Croatian Chinese Wall. It was peculiar to see, but not really special. The high price of the entrance ticket already made us long back for Bosnian prices that were much more budget-friendly…..
Last post: week 2
Next post: week 4