Category Archives: Bosnia & Herzevgovina

Balkans Road Trip Part IV: Mostar, Herzegovina

Just a few hours south of Sarajevo, Mostar feels like a different world.  It is closest destination in Bosnia to Dubrovnik, Croatia and as we entered this mixed Croat/Bosniak city in Herzegovina, we fell back in love with the Adriatic landscape that enticed us to return to the Balkans to begin with – particularly the drama of the mountains plunging into bright blue-green waters.
Mostar is one of the Balkan’s most well-known gems and it is a-bustle with tourists who stop by for an hour or two during the day; it’s even the cover of the current Lonely Planet Southeastern Europe guide book.  There isn’t much to do in the town itself aside from take pictures on and of the eponymous bridge and, for the those who dare, jump off the bridge.   That said, it’s well-worth the stop, especially as a point to relax and break up the drive to Montenegro or Croatia, and a great base from which to go out on day trips and excursion in and around the area.

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The famous Mostar Bridge

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Where to Eat, Drink, & Stay
Admittedly somewhat touristy, we enjoyed great food at Sadravan and Konoba Taurus, and drinks at the fun Black Dog Pub overlooking the water, included the locally brewed OldBridz brown ale.  We stayed right in town at Villa Fortuna, which has the most charming inn keeper, if not the most reliable internet.

 

from the drive down to Mostar from Sarajevo

from the drive down to Mostar from Sarajevo

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Balkans Road Trip Part III: Sarajevo, City of Heartbreak

Sarajevo is a tale of two cities: the city before 1992 and the city after.

Pre-1992 Sarajevo is that which is first apparent to visitors; it is the city of east-meets-west, where, from the center of town, the eastern side of the city is a mini Istanbul, reflecting its establishment and first 400 years as an Ottoman Turkish city.  From the west of the center, the city is a mini-Vienna, reflecting its 40 (highly productive) years of Austro-Hungarian rule, which brought Europe’s first electric-tram system.  It is the city where Gavrilo Princip, trained by the Black Hand in Serbia, assassinated the future Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Franz Ferdinand – the excuse for the start of World War I.  It is the city that was known as little Jerusalem, where from a main square, one was never more than a few hundred feet of an Eastern Orthodox church, a Catholic Church, a mosque, and a synagogue.  It was the gem of the former united Yugoslavia, when it hosted the 1984 XIV Winter Olympic Games.

Sarajevo was under siege from 1992-1995, surrounded by the Serb army, the scars of the war are visible on the facades of buildings, on the Sarajevo Roses around town (red resin filling in mortar scars indicating where people were killed during the war), from the tour guides who are no older than I am who talk about growing up in a city under siege, and by the abandoned Olympic venues – which are now surrounded by land mines and are a haunting reminder of just how transient the coming together of nations can be.

Bosnia & Herzegovina today is complicated beyond my understanding.  It is mandated as two territories post-war – the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and the Republika Srpska (RS).  It has 3 postal systems, 2 tax systems, and 3 governments with 3 presidents (one Bosniak, one Serb, one Croat), which has lead to the 45% official unemployment rate.

Sarajevo, as the New York Times wrote last year, has a charisma that “is intoxicating, but the hustle and bustle belies a tragic past.”

It is hard not to fall in love with Sarajevo, but it is a city that will break your heart.

The eastern side of Sarajevo is a mini Istanbul

The eastern side of Sarajevo is a mini Istanbul

The western side of the city is a mini Vienna

The western side of the city is a mini Vienna

mini Vienna

mini Vienna

What to do

  • Don’t miss a walking tour of the city, we loved the Free Walking Tour with Neno, a Sarajevo-born guide just a few years younger than I am, who presents his personal history alongside that of the city
  • The underground tunnels (near the airport) from the siege time – which has an interesting 12 minute documentary and 25 meters of tunnel still open
  •  the abandoned Olympic venues – impossible to get to by public transportation, but well worth renting a car or going with a tour (most of the hostels and a few of the tour companies will run them) (thanks to T.Cain for this rec!)
  • Gallerija 11-7-95, which I wrote about here
  • The food!! Recommendations below.
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The siege tunnels from 1992-1995

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The Latin Bridge where Archbishop Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, aka the beginning of WWI

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The red resin “Sarajevo rose” over the mortar shell scar

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The abandoned bobsled track from the 1984 Olympic Winter Games

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The abandoned bobsled track from the 1984 Olympic Winter Games

Where to eat

  • Bakeries selling Bureks, the phyllo pastries filled with cheese, spinach, potato, or meat, are on every corner, but we highly recommend Buregdzinica Bosna, which is in the old town, and came touted as the best in the city (we won’t argue with that!)
  • Bosnian coffee at Divan – also in the city, and a great place for people-watching
  • Cevapici, the mini-sausage version of Turkish Kebabs, served with pita and onions.  The city is divided on its favorite Cevapdzinica along sports team allegiance, but Zeljo and Ferhatovic are a toss up for #1.

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Where to stay

  •  Once again, we opted for AirBNB.  The $35/night apartment (6 minutes from old-town )was only bested by the adorable host parents who adopted us for our time there (the apartment is owned and rented by their daughter and attached to their home)

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Balkans Road Trip Part II: The (treacherous) drive from Serbia to Bosnia & Herzegovina

Part A: The Road Trip

After a few great days in Belgrade, Serbia, it was time to get on the road and begin the actual road trip.  When I originally decided that now was the right time to do my long-awaited Balkans trip, there were a few modes of transportation that I’d looked into.  Trains were out of the question, as many of the lines were never restored post-war and those that were, are outdated and take twice as long as any other mode of transit.  Our options were buses or driving – we opted for the latter for the flexibility in travel itinerary and timing – and despite what transpired, it was one of the best travel adventures I’ve ever had.

There were some obstacles we were made aware of from reading blogs before the trip, namely:

  • a manual-transmission car
  • the lack of highways
  • reckless drivers
  • one-lane roads that cling to the sides of the mountainous topography
  • land mines that remain on the side of the roads once you enter into Bosnia – wartime remnants from the Serb army

There were some obstacles that were a surprise:

  • a total lack of roads entirely for some stretches
  • roads in total disrepair that were barely drivable (7 mph, max)
  • our cell phones not working at all in the Balkans (thank you, Verizon)
  • flooding caused by the torrential rains during parts of our drive

We took a detour to stop in Srebrenica – my thoughts are below – and so, in its entirety, the journey took us 8+ hours from Belgrade to Sarajevo, which is 120 miles as the crow flies.  Stocked with a great Spotify music playlist, a bagful of pastries from Belgrade, and the best co-pilot/company a girl could ask for, we ended up having an incredible adventure – and one I won’t forget anytime soon.

 

Sometimes there were roads...

Sometimes there were roads…

Sometimes there were not...

Sometimes there were not…

Beautiful Bosnian countryside, though we dared not step off the road to take pictures, because of the land mines.

Beautiful Bosnian countryside, though we dared not step off the road to take pictures, for fear of land mines.

Part B: Stopping in Srebrenica on Yom Hashoah

I was 11 years old when the genocide in Srebrenica took place in July 1995.  I had just finished 5th grade.  I remember hearing the news coverage of the systematic massacre of 8300 Bosniak (ethnically Muslim) boys and men age 12-77 by the Serb army as the Dutch UN peacekeepers stood by and watched.  Here’s a link for a brief recap of the history.

The moment we decided to make this a road trip, I decided I needed to stop in Srebrenica along the way.  It’s not “my” history per se, but perhaps as a Jew (and as a former camp counselor who brought students to bear witness at the concentration camps in Poland), I felt compelled to acknowledge the history of the other 20th century European Genocide.  What I didn’t realize until the night before, is that the day of our trip was Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day.

I don’t want to add much commentary for fear that anything I might possibly be able to write risks making the experience seem trite.  My only note is  how particularly difficult it was to read the echoes of the Holocaust’s “never again” in the memorial prayer in the cemetery  “…May mothers’ tears become prayers that Srebrenica Never happens again to no one and nowhere,”  because it did happen, again – and in our lifetime – as the world watched, again.

For visitors to Sarajevo, Gallerija 11/7/05 is a moving 2 room gallery with a photo exhibit and a 27 minute documentary that is not to be missed, despite the heavy topic.  (Because it was the 1990s, the Serbs were broadcasting much on their news coverage – which is now part of the documentary.)

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Balkans Road Trip

It’s about that time of year again, when I realize how long it has been since my last adventure.  Wanderlust has set in with full force and so I did what I always do and booked tickets.

With an arrival in Belgrade, Serbia and a departure from Podgorica, Montenegro the following week…are you thinking what I’m thinking (of course you are, it’s in the title): Balkans Road Trip!

Ideas for places to stay & things to do are always welcome!

balkans-political mapped

 

April 26: Belgrade, Serbia
April 27: Belgrade, Serbia
April 28: road trip to Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina with a stop in Srebrenica
April 29: Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina
April 30, Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina
May 1: Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina
May 2 Kotor, Montenegro
May 3: Kotor/Budva/Sveti Stefan, Montenegro
May 4: Depart from Podgorica, Montenegro

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