Day 51: May 2, 2018
Has it really been fifty-one days already? Part of me feels like we just left yesterday. Another part is really missing home and a routine, though neither of us are ready for it to be over yet.
We woke up this morning very red and sore. My upper legs were probably the worst as this is the first time they’ve seen sun in awhile. We had sausages, eggs, yogurt and strawberries for breakfast to clean out the fridge. I got things ready for lunch and Danny packed up the car. We began our drive to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
On our drive to the border between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina we were watching for a turn and the police had someone pulled over on the left. We weren’t sure where the turn was located. The officer was half holding up his stop sign and staring at us. Danny slowed down. The officer kept staring so Danny waved and kept on driving. It was a very odd encounter and we must have looked very suspicious.
We found an ATM in a small town so that we could take out some Bosnian Marks. Our first site to see was Kravica Waterfalls. We paid entry to the falls, but it seems we could have used Euros. We walked down to the falls and it was beautiful. There were some people swimming in a huge pool in front of the falls. There wasn’t much room on the shore, but it looked like you could take a back way to the other side.
We enjoyed the falls here much more than Krka just because there were way less people. We walked back up to the car though and there was a huge line up of people to go in so maybe we just timed it right. The walk up was sweltering. The car read 36 degrees. No wonder we were so hot.
We drove to a gas station to buy a SIM card because my Croatian one isn’t working here. I got it in, but I couldn’t get the internet to work. The instructions were not in English. Eventually we went back into the gas station to see if the attendant could help. He spoke a bit of English, but not a lot. He was able to figure out how to register it, but then you needed to input the APN. All of a sudden the 3G showed up at the top and it seemed to be working. We thanked him greatly and drove away. The internet then stopped working. I kept trying different things to fix it, but had no luck. Google Maps had enough information to direct us to our next stop: Počitelj.
Počitelj is a town on the side of a hill south of Mostar. All the buildings and streets are made of stone. There are a couple of towers, town gates and a mosque. Women along the walk were selling pomegranate juice, strawberries and cranberries.
We walked up to the tower in the blistering heat. There was a gorgeous view of the town and the river that was bright blue. As we were walking along the cobbled streets, we heard the call to prayer from the mosque. It was quite beautiful.
We continued walking down and bought some pomegranate juice from one lady. Then as we were walking another lady offered more pomegranate juice and we declined. We kept walking and she was still listing things she had to offer. Danny heard blackberry juice and stopped in his tracks. He ended up going back to get it. The juices were very refreshing and tasty.
We drove on and found a place to use wifi. We searched the places to see in Mostar and I downloaded an offline map. Smoking is allowed in restaurants here so the cafe we were in was smoky.
We went to Blagaj which has a monastery with a cave next to it. On the walk down it was pouring rain which ruined my mood. We walked in and had to cover our legs with a blanket and I used a head scarf. There wasn’t much to see inside. We walked around for a view with the cave.
At that point I was starting to feel hangry. We went back to the car and had salad with tuna for lunch. We drove to Mostar where I had found a place to park and it seemed to be free. We walked to a car park that was a sniper tower during the Bosnian War. I wish we had done a walking tour of Mostar to learn all about the history.
We walked around to the Old Bridge. There was a market there on both sides. We paid to watch a seven minute video showing the Old Bridge before, during and after the war. It was covered with metal for people to go under during the war and then it was destroyed. A rope bridge was used in its place. The bridge has since been re-built.
We walked to the Crooked Bridge and then up the river to get a view of the Old Bridge. It was beautiful. Danny could not stop saying how much he loved the city.
In the old town we found a place to eat. I got ćevapi (sausages) with a pita bread. The dish is very popular here. Danny got deep fried frog legs. They were actually pretty good, like chicken, but a bit greasier.
From there we walked to the car and drove to our Airbnb. It was an entire house with beautiful stone work just north of Mostar. The couple was there waiting for us. They showed us the beautiful garden in the back and invited us to use any vegetables we wished. There were no other houses very close, but a little traffic did drive passed. The host seemed very interesting. He works for the Centre for Peace and Cooperation and is a representative for an organization is Brussels. He talked about how Bosnia and Herzegovina is being used as an example of different cultures working together within one country. He also said that many people visit the country to touch Islam because it is safer.
We sat in the garden for awhile and looked through some books they had showing photos of Mostar before and after the war. It started to get dark out so we went in and went to bed.
Day 52: May 3, 2018
We woke up this morning and realized we didn’t have any breakfast food. I fried up some asparagus we hadn’t used yet and ate it with the remaining cereal and milk. It was much cooler than the day before.
We packed the car and I told Danny we could drive back to the highway or up the road through the mountain pass. Our host had told us the mountain pass was a nice spot for hiking. Danny chose the pass at the last minute.
The first part of the road was paved and in pretty good condition. We reached the top and the pavement disappeared and gravel remained. It was very steep and very gravely. We had to go quite slow as some areas were a bit washed out. We expected more houses on the road as quite a few vehicles had passed in the morning, but there was no one until we came upon two large dogs. They looked quite friendly until they barked and jumped at the car. We drove a bit further and there were sheep and a small house. That was it along the entire road. No wonder it wasn’t paved!
We kept driving and a couple of times Danny had to get out of the car and move large rocks that had fallen on the road. We stopped a couple of times for a view into the valley. The hilltops peaked out of the fog.
Thankfully, no one was along the road. It was very narrow and we weren’t sure how we would pass. Near the bottom of the road there were three puppies on a bend. Danny said, “Puppies, that’s definitely a trap!”, and kept driving.
We stopped at a gas station to load the SIM card as our host thought that may be the problem. The attendant loaded it, but it still wasn’t working. She tried something else and then it worked. The moment we drove away though, it stopped.
We drove up farther to another gas station and I had a tea so we could use their wifi. I decided to give up on the SIM card. We searched the places we wanted to visit in Sarajevo and booked a walking tour about the Bosnian War. Danny messaged our Airbnb host to arrange a check-in time.
Our first stop in Sarajevo was the Olympic Bobsled and Luge Track from the 1984 Winter Olympics. It has fallen into disrepair and has a bunch of graffiti on it. We walked along it for a bit and then ate our lunch.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is very beautiful. There is a lot of wilderness, but it feels untouchable as there are still so many unexploded mines remaining from the war. The newest goal they set was to be mine free by 2019, but it is anticipated it will take at least another five years.
We drove up to the Olympic stadium and walked around it. Then we went down to a tower with the Olympic symbol on it. Danny was looking for the Sarajevo sign from the Olympics, but we were unable to find it.
From there, we drove to a transit stop and parked. We walked to the starting point for our tour: Susan Sontag Square. We found some ice cream up the road and came back to sit on the steps of the Sarajevo National Theatre.
The guide arrived a bit early and chatted with us. There ended up being about fifteen of us on the tour. He started by telling us about the creation of Yugoslavia and the time during Tito’s rule. He said that the economy was very good during that time, but anyone against Tito would go to jail. Many people of the guide’s grandparent’s generation remember the times of Tito fondly. When Tito died in 1980, the different areas couldn’t decided how to handle the government. The Soviet Union was also collapsing around the same time. Slovenia, then Croatia, then Macedonia had referendums and gained independence. Bosnia also held a referendum. It was boycotted by the Serbs who would have been the minority. Croats, Bosniaks and some Serbs voted for independence. The referendum went through with a majority voting for independence. The Serbs refused it, calling it invalid. This led to the forty-four month conflict from 1992-1995.
The Serbs held the mountains to the north of Sarajevo and launched on average 300 shells a day at the city. Some days many more and some days less. Sarajevo was only under siege by the Serbs; there was never any street fighting. The shells on the city were meant to break the spirit of the people living there so that they would surrender. Many houses still have shrapnel holes because it costs too much to fix.
We were taken to the market where a bar of chocolate would cost 25 euros during the war. In 1994, 67 people were killed in the market by a missile that can still be seen in the ground today. The year 1994 was also when the international community started to get involved in the war.
The guide was five years old when the war started. His family stayed in Sarajevo thinking the war would not last. His mother worked for the Ministry of Finance and his father was in the army fighting against the Serbs. This is interesting because his mother was a Bosniak and his father was a Serb. His father was one of a small number of Serbs who voted for independence.
During the siege on Sarajevo people continued working and school was held in basements. 11,000 people died in the city; 10% were children. We saw a memorial for the children. Their names were on almost prayer wheels that made noises like toys when turned.
We saw a Sarajevo rose which shows where a shell exploded and people died. The marks are painted red on the sidewalk.
During the siege on Sarajevo, the country’s south also experienced conflict. Some Croats decided they also wanted their own land when the independence of Bosnia wasn’t working out.
In July 1995, the Serbs carried out ethnic cleansing and the international community forced the groups to talk. The Dayton Peace Agreement was signed in December 1995. The Serbs were given the Republika Sprska which was 49% of the territory. No agreement was reached on Brčko District so it was kept autonomous. The agreement also set out how the government would function. Bosnia and Herzegovina has three presidents: Croat, Bosniak and Serb. People from the “other” group cannot be president. They must fit into one of the three groups. For example, our guide is a Serb-Bosniak so he could never be a President.
Many young people leave the country due to a lack of jobs. Investors are scared and there is corruption due to there being so many layers of government. Many people don’t want unification of the government as they would lose their government jobs.
We visited sniper alley, the most dangerous intersection during the war. Snipers hid in the Jewish cemetery on the hill. The government buildings in the area were hit many times. A Holiday Inn nearby was never hit as they knew that the international media was staying there.
We were told the story of Sarajevo’s Romeo and Juliet. A man and a woman in love. Him a Serb, her a Bosniak. They stayed in Sarajevo during the war, but wanted to leave as it became more dangerous. The man found a friend in the Serbian army who told him of a day there would be a ceasefire. During the ceasefire the couple could cross the bridge, come to the Serbian side and escape through Serbia to the USA. The day came and as the couple crossed the bridge they were hit by snipers. Their bodies laid on the bridge for eight days, her hugging him, as no one had decided who would clear the bodies. The couple was buried together.
We moved on to the Canned Beef Memorial which gives thanks to the international community for their assistance. The UN provided food to the city in the war, but much of it was expired or rotting. Some added irony was that the artist wanted the memorial to be in a high profile spot. The city decided to put it behind the museum. Recently, the UN moved in to a building just across the park from the memorial.
The tour guide was very knowledgeable and the personal history definitely added to the experience. We tipped and walked back to the car. We drove to the location Google Maps showed for our Airbnb, but it didn’t seem right. We drove back and saw the building from the picture on Airbnb. We parked then weren’t sure we were in the right spot. We asked people in a nearby restaurant, but they didn’t know. We used their wifi and messaged the host who said he would meet us in the restaurant. It turns out we were in the right spot. We made pizza for supper and Danny talked with his parents. The place is very new and nice, but the bedding smells smoky so we will see how we sleep.
Day 53: May 4, 2018
Danny’s alarm went off so I got up and got ready. I then realized it was only 6:30 am and we weren’t going to leave until 9:30 am. It was nice to have some extra time and not be rushed to leave, but I would’ve liked to sleep longer too. I had a tea and did some blogging. Then got our yogurt ready for breakfast. Danny was up too because he couldn’t sleep. He went for a run then we packed up. We drove to a parking place near Susan Sontag Square where our second walking tour started. This one was called: East Meets West. It covered the 500 year history of Sarajevo. The same tour guide led this tour as the one the day before.
The current population of Sarajevo is approximately 400,000. The city is not getting bigger due to the restricted size in the valley and the struggling economy. There is a 65% unemployment rate among the young people in the city.
Sarajevo was founded in the 15th century by the Ottomans who built silver, gold and copper mines. Sarajevo in Turkish means palace in a valley. The palace was burned during the Ottman time and no longer exists. The Ottomans ruled for 400 years until the Austrians took over in 1878. They ruled for 40 years. The Austrian period was quite productive for the city. Railways and transit were built.
In 1918 following WWI, Yugoslavia was created. Yugoslavia means South Slavs. A Serbian king ruled during this time and he had little interest in Sarajevo.
In WWII, the city was occupied by the Nazis. Communist Tito liberated the area and became the leader of the new Yugoslavia. Many new buildings and factories were built in Sarajevo during this time. When Tito died, there was a rise of nationalism that broke apart the country.
There are three main religions in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Orthodox Catholic (Serbs), Roman Catholic (Croats) and Muslim (Bosniaks).
In a square, we saw a group of men playing chess. The guide said that they are there every day with two playing and everyone else putting in their two cents.
We saw a Serb church and were told that the population of Serbs in Sarajevo is only 5%. The city is predominately Bosniak. In Sarajevo, there are 220 mosques. Lots of small ones exist on the hills so that it is easier to access for prayer.
We also saw the one synagogue in the entire country. There are currently approximately 700 Jews in Sarajevo. Before WWII there were 10,000. The first Jews came to Sarajevo from Spain during the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century. They were welcomed by the Ottomans.
We moved on to see the “Ugliest Building in Sarajevo”. It is painted a bright yellow and green. It was built in 1982 for the 1984 Olympics to show off the modern Soviet style. A three bedroom apartment in that area of the city would be 600 euros/month. Outside of the old town the average cost is 150 euros/month.
We moved on the see the location of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie which was the trigger for WWI. The couple was visiting from Vienna and travelling to City Hall for a meeting. The Serbian Black Hand had arranged to kill them as they passed. The Black Hand wanted the Serbs in Bosnia to unite with Serbia and remove the Austro-Hungarians from power.
As the couple drove past, the first man from the Black Hand threw a grenade, but it missed. The other men from the Black Hand thought it had hit and were celebrating. They missed their opportunity.
At City Hall, the couple had a brief twenty minute meeting. The Archduke canceled his lunch at the hotel and asked to be taken to the hospital to check on the wounded and then return to Vienna. The driver was not told and headed to the hotel. Meanwhile, Gavrilo Princip of the Black Hand was in a cafe on the corner. He heard people yelling on the street that the Archduke was returning. At that point the driver was told to turn around and go back. Princip took this opportunity and shot the Archduke and his wife. He tried to kill himself as well, but the gun stuck.
Princip was just under twenty years of age so was given the maximum sentence of a minor: 20 years in prison. He died in prison four years later of tuberculosis. His older friends were tried as adults and sentenced to hanging.
We walked further to a red Franciscan Church that is named “All Sarajevoans Church” as the monks promote unity of all. Across the street is a beer factory built by the Austro-Hungarians on top of a spring. Beer was made throughout all three wars. The spring provided fresh water during the Bosnian war making it a target and very dangerous for the locals to access.
We saw the City Hall/Library that has come to be a symbol of Sarajevo. On August 26, 1992 it caught on fire during the siege. Two million books were destroyed. Burned pages floated out over the city on the windy day.
We also saw the “House of the Stubborn Man” across the river from the City Hall/Library. His house used to be on the opposite side, but the government wanted the land to build the City Hall in the 19th century. He agreed as long as they moved his house across the river: brick by brick.
We ended in the main market. During the Otoman rule it would have been three times its current size. There would have been fifty streets for fifty crafts. The copper street remains intact. We walked up it then went to the caravan hostel where traders would rest for the night. It now hosts offices.
The tour guide was fantastic again. We left and went to try some local foods he suggested. It was 1:00 pm so we were starving. We had burek: phyllo dough filled with meat which Danny had; mine was filled with spinach and cheese. Danny could not stop talking about how delicious it was. Days later he’s still claiming it’s the best thing he has ever eaten. We went to another place and had a tufahija: a poached apple stuffed with walnuts and topped with whipped cream, also delicious.
We walked back to the car and started our drive to Montenegro. Danny had read that the road, the M18, was a bit crappy. Bosnia and Herzegovina only has one highway. The others are paved, but they still snake through towns. The M18 was like that until closer to the border. It became very curvy and had only one paved lane on the corners with the inside lane being gravel. There were also many potholes. It wasn’t impossible to drive, but you had to take your time.
We arrived at the border and checked out of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Montenegro customs agent asked where we were going. I was glad that I had re-looked at the town names moments before. When he handed back the passports he said, “Have a good trip. Be careful there…..”. I missed the end and didn’t want to make him repeat it. Your mind always makes up crazy things. More potholes? Falling rocks? Steep hills? Trick puppies?
The highway was a bit better on the Montenegro side. We stopped and took pictures of the hills and water then continued driving to Niksic to find our Airbnb for the night.
The Airbnb was the upstairs of a house in a quiet neighbourhood. We walked to a store, but realized the currency changed and we had no euros. We walked back and made do with what we had.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has been a very pleasant surprise. We weren’t really sure what to expect going in, but it exceeded our expectations. The people were very friendly and really went out of their way to help us. The views were amazing and we were very glad to learn more of the history. It is a place we regret not having more time to spend and will be at the top of our suggestion list for other travellers. A couple days in Montenegro coming up!