WHAT TO SEE IN BOSNIA:
Before we left for our trip, we knew where we were going. We had done a lot of planning. We had our reservations booked. We had compiled a lot of research...
...for the first 3 weeks. I forgot to mention that part. We knew what we were doing for the first 3 weeks. After that, we decided to see where we would end up. Bosnia is one of those places.
ARRIVING IN BOSNIA: We took a bus from Dubrovnik to Mostar. Driving time, it was only 2 hours. The trip was prolonged when our driver stopped at a convenience store for an hour. We never did come up with an explanation for that one.
We arrived in the dark but had no problem navigating to our hostel. When we arrived it was clear that this hostel was different than other hostels we had stayed in in the past. It felt like a home. It had an outdoor living room. We were given a map of the city to color and cake to nibble on as they told us the rules. Everyone was mingling together. Reggae covers of pop songs were playing in the background. Every hostel is different and new, but this one was refreshing.
We were immediately invited to go to dinner with a few people. They led us to a "traditional Bosnian buffet" restaurant. I can't remember the name of the place but I am 70% sure it was on the street Braće Fejića. If not, the street is Marsala Tita. The food was good (beans and vegetables in unique sauces) and, as always, eating dinner with strangers was interesting. It is easy to get to know new people over a meal... especially when everyone has beer and no cell phones. Our hostel-mates went to the Black Dog Pub later that night. We were still recovering from Dubrovnik and very tired so we went to bed. On the way home we stopped to get our first look at the bridge.....
Before we explored the city, we received a few history lessons from our hostel owners. Madjas and Batas grew up in Mostar before the war. Batas told us about his childhood, leaving his home during the war, and what it was like coming back after the fighting stopped. These stories changed our perspective on the 10 days we spent in Bosnia. I feel lucky to have been able to have candid conversations with this amazingly resilient duo. Any facts I mention in the rest of this post are things that I remember from my talks with them.
More than anything I wish I could describe the feel of Bosnia. Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands and other western European countries are great for seeing history. In Bosnia, you can feel it.
Our hostel emphasized the significance of the bridge in Mostar. I was actually proud that I could use my rudimentary Czech to figure out the meaning of the city name: Most- meaning bridge, Stari - meaning old. We were told that 'Mostar' also means 'guardian of the bridge'. They showed us the videos below. The first is of the bridge falling during the Bosnian war. The second is the red bull diving competition being held in Mostar to honor the Mostar Diving Club. Diving off the bridge is an integral part of the culture in Mostar, and our hostel owners wanted to make sure we understood this. Everyone planning on visiting this city should watch these videos.
A regional food, we had burek at our disposal the entire time we were in the Balkans. This was obviously a blessing and a curse. When it comes to eating food in foreign countries, I wish I had a more elegant way of saying "yolo". Sample every flavor you can find and pair it with a yogurt drink. This is a very accessible vegetarian option. We also got to see it get made which was COOL.
DIVING INTO COLD WATER AT KRAVICE WATERFALL:
I could imagine this spot being amazing in the summer. We visited in mid-October. It was very beautiful, but very cold. However, when life presents these situations, you should probably just jump into the water anyways.
Kravice means "little cow". We never did see the little cows....
VISITING POCITELJ, BOSNIA:
Pocitelj suffered heavy bombing during the Bosnian war. The town had around 1000 residents before the war, and now only three homes are occupied.
We had tea at the home of one of the remaining residents. We were served Bosnian snacks and learned traditional customs. We heard about their experiences during the war.
CLIMBING THE SKELETON OF THE LJUBLJANSKA BANK:
Once the largest bank in Mostar, the concrete frame of the Ljubljanska Bank is all the remains. During the war the building was used as a sniper towner because of its panorama view of the city. Technically private property, but a quick fence hop will take you inside.
The outside is completely covered in bullet holes. Completely. You can see it in the picture to the right. The inside is covered in graffiti. Honestly, it is really dangerous. There are 3 open elevator shafts, garbage everywhere, and the stairs have no railings or walls. At any point you are 4 feet away from open air. I am not afraid of heights, but I did feel very uneasy in this building. That being said, it is a very powerful place and I highly recommend visiting... like don't leave Mostar without climbing it.
HIKING (CLIMBING) UP TO BLAGAJ FORT:
Our hostel suggested hiking the ruins of a fort outside of Mostar. They told us how to get there, and they even warned us to take the path on the left side of the fort, because the right side was too steep. This is the story of us hiking up the right side.
We took a cab 30 mins outside of the city to get there, and it cost 20$ TOTAL for 4 people (5$ per person). Always decide on the price before getting inside, but cabs are a reliable and cheap way to get around Bosnia. Always be smart when getting into a car with a stranger.
First, we appreciated the 16th century Blagaj Dervish and Buna river spring. Beautiful and mystical, the water flows out of the cave for 9 kilometers before meeting the Neretva. A lot of research has been done into finding the source of the water and unearthing settlements that were here thousands of years ago. This site is considered a national landmark.
After, we hiked up to Blagaj fort. But we didn't really hike... because we didn't find the correct path... so we climbed. On all fours. We went vertical multiple times. We inched across rocky ledges... but we made it! I spent the entire hike laughing at the absurdity of the situation. I am actually happy we got so damn lost. The most infuriating part? The stray dog followed us to the top and never struggled with the climb once.
I think I ate cevapi every day while in Bosnia. I think I miss cevapi every day while in America. The first place I had it was the best, but you can find it everywhere. Its like sausage... in soft bread... with onions and creamy cheese? It is so good, cheap, and filling. It is the ultimate backpackers food (unless you don't eat meat). I have no pictures, but just find it. My favorite place was on the Trg Musala circle in Mostar.
ARRIVING IN SARAJEVO: We arrived in Sarajevo on Halloween. I remember this because no one cared. We took a bus from Mostar. The ride was very beautiful. We heard that the train ride is even more beautiful, but the tracks "were getting fixed," and we couldn't take it. We bought our tickets at the bus station (not in advance). If my memory serves me correctly, there was a delicious and inexpensive snack stand outside of the bus station.
I really liked Sarajevo. It is a city with a rich history, and it has a very authentic feel. Areas that would be considered "tourist spots" in other cities also have locals milling around in Sarajevo. Whether you are staying at a hostel, hotel, or apartment, find a way to have a local guide show you around the city. Being a certified tour guide is very prestigious in Bosnia, and applicants have to take several exams to receive a license. Regardless, certified or not, a local will have the best understanding of the history of the city. Hearing personal experiences is important when attempting to comprehend this Bosnia.
WHAT TO SEE IN SARAJEVO, BOSNIA:
THE LATIN BRIDGE:
Our hostel gave us an excellent (short but sweet) walking/history tour of some parts of the city. Because you aren't going to be able to learn everything about a city in one day (especially a city like Sarajevo), sometimes it's best to cut your losses and appreciate what you can see. The Latin Bridge was the first stop on our tour. This is the bridge where archduke Franz Ferdinand and his pregnant wife were killed in 1914, starting WWI.
CHEERING ON FK SARAJEVO:
I have very (very) mixed feelings about live sporting events. This is not the place to get into them.
With that being said, I was surprisingly stoked to go to a soccer game in Sarajevo. The game was held in the Olympic stadium. As I alluded before, I was fairly indifferent to the actual ~soccer~ part of the experience, so the most interesting part for me was seeing the other spectators (and chugging beers at a bar before the game, shhhh).
I tried to translate....couldn't get it. This was an end of game spectacle put on by the home fans.
Just a little bit of security around the visiting fans.
OLYMPIC BOBSLED TRACK:
What a hike! Simply walking the Sarajevo Olympic bobsled track was confirmation that we will never be an olympic athletes. We heard a lot about the Olympics in Sarajevo and even visited the museum. First off, I love the Olympics. Second off, the Olympics in Sarajevo occurred before the war and many spoke about it as a time before the fighting. This track was used as a bunker during the Bosnian war. Today, visitors can walk up and down (or graffiti) it.
A movie theatre turned bar - doesn't that sound like a dream? For a taste of local culture, stop by on a weekend night to hear musicians, drink cheap wine, and watch the cloud of cigarette smoke turn into an opaque fog. Good luck finding it! When in doubt, listen for music.
A poignant sight, the Sarajevo rose is the name for mortar shell scars on the pavement in Sarajevo. Someone once remarked that they almost look like flowers in their shape, and because of that, many were filled in with red paint.