Country number: 132
Territory number: 152
When? September 2015 Don’t Baulk at the Balkans. Coming from Montenegro – last leg.
Who? Group Tour
We cross the border from Montenegro into Bosnia (officially Bosnia and Herzegovina) and continue to Trebinje, a town with roots going back to Ottoman times and longer. The town (surprise, surprise) also ‘boasts numerous interesting churches and monasteries’. The main church, even though we’ve seen so many, is worth a visit for the quality of the interior illumination. There’s also a market square, chock full of honey and cheese, and a famous old Ottoman bridge.
Onto Mostar, another highlight. Mostar is a more than picturesque town that is more than five centuries old, and served as an Ottoman frontier town, totally dominated by an even more famous old Turkish bridge that was once the only means connecting the city over the emerald waters of the Neretva River. It’s easy to wile away several hours wandering around here. There are pavement cafes and roof terraces lining the paths up to and around the bridge, as well as several bazaars (and churches)….Mostar was celebrated for the integration of its architectural styles reflecting the diversity of its community and religions.
Ironic then, that the civil war in the 1990s, part of the breakup of Yugoslavia, resulted in the demolition of the bridge and most of the old town. The brokered ‘peace’ – the Dayton agreement is very complicated – I hope I’m explaining correctly what the guide said-, but it is a fascinatingly unique political system. This is a tripartite state for Serbs Croats and Moslems (Bosniaks). The country is named Bosnia and Herzegovina, but is in effect two main federations, the Republic of Srpska and the federation of Bosnia Herzegovina (Croat and Bosniak), but there is also the small Brcko district. Three presidents, one representing each community, alternative power as Chair for 8 months over a 4 year term. The bureaucracy is incredible- each has their own officers and ministers. UNESCO raised funds to restore the old town and bridge. The guides say it cost 20 million dollars. We hope its money well spent. Tensions between the different communities, even now, are palpable.
The road to Sarajevo is a continuing reminder of the conflict. There are tanks, guns, half demolished buildings and bridges (one up ended in the river) and bullet holes. Sarajevo, the end of our journey, doesn’t quite match up to Mostar on the cuteness scale but it’s still a gorgeous town with plenty to see and lots of history. The most poignant and famous spot is the plaque that marks the spot where Arch Duke Ferdinand was assassinated (on the second attempt). It’s right next to our hotel. There are at least three juxtaposed cities to walk through, the modern (federal and civic buildings, galleries and museums), the classical (with several churches, synagogues and celebrated ice cream parlors) and the Ottoman. There are beautiful Ottoman mosques, old quarters and the authentic Turkish ‘carsija’, with its oriental sweet shops, cafes and traditional Bosnian food. Everything from the Baroque to the Bohemian, and even Shrek style fairy castle turrets. There are numerous little squares and alleys, souvenir shops and endless restaurants. However, there are only a few customers. There is 50% unemployment In Sarajevo. There is also no water in the town for a substantial part of the day. After some cajoling our hotel hands out bottled water for us to wash in. it’s not the most satisfying way to finish our tour. My room is small, dark (tiny skylight) noisy and smells so badly of drains that I have to sleep with my head under the sheet. Ice cream is called for.