Gap Year Days 149 – 157
As always, we learnt something new on our way to Bosnia & Herzegovina. Yet another quirk to travelling in the Balkans. Even though a passenger has a paid ticket for a certain bus, it is still possible that the bus will fill up at the first stop and there will not be any seats left at subsequent stops! If we had known this before, we would have elbowed our way to the front with a bit more conviction, but when it got to our turn to get on, only one seat was left!
The bus driver spoke very little English, and even though he told me “No, no, no”, I managed to convince him we both had to get on the bus, and I would sit in the aisle if need be.
So sit in the aisle I did, for most of a seven hour bus trip to Sarajevo! And I was thankful every minute as others were denied even though they had a ticket.
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We had another fail as we arrived into Sarajevo. The bus stop we were dropped off at was not the one we though we were going to. We were now miles away, with no Bosniam Marks to be able to buy a bus ticket or pay for a taxi. First job then was to find an ATM and get some money. So we walked for a bit in the right direction, and eventually were able to get some money out of the bank.
Even better was the bank had free wifi, so I was able to use Google Maps to see how far we were from our accommodation and a bus stop. As it worked out, the bus stop was about half way to our hotel anyway, so we decided to walk the whole way.
Where we were staying was also quite a way out of the city centre, but was a sponsored stay for Simon’s blog. As we walked, we could see the scars on the buildings from the 1992-95 war. We were in the old soviet area, where many of the buildings are the grey concrete monoliths the era is know for. In between there were occasionally new buildings, or ones that had been repaired and painted, often in bright colours.
We setlled in and enjoyed the hotel for the evening grabbing a cheap pizza for dinner in the restaurant. Yes, pizza can be found everywhere, and normally for a decent price too.
While we may have been a bit out of the centre, we were staying right on the tram line, so the next morning we began the process of working out the public transport. It took a few goes to find tickets. Our instructions were that one of the kiosks near the tram stop sold them, but there were quite a few kiosks, and I think it was third time lucky. Tickets were cheaper if you bought them in groups of three, but our poor (non-existent!) Bosnian meant we ended up with single tickets. At 1.60BAM (€0.81/$1.24AUD) I wasn’t going to complain about the few extra cents.
Once in the city centre we joined one of the free walking tours. There is so much to Sarajevo that the walking tours are split in two. We had chosen to do one that showed the less recent history, including the Ottomans and the Austrians. This included the fall of the Austrian empire when Emperor Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated in 1914. This event is widely recognised as the start of World War One.
We hadn’t initially planned it, but later in the day we joined the second walking tour which focused on the more recent history of the 1992-95 Bosnian war. During this time Sarajevo was under siege. Our guide was a young boy of seven at the beginning of the war, so ha was able to provide insight into living at that time. He was in particularly interesting situation, because he had a Bosnian mother and a Serbian father – who chose to fight on the Bosnian side.
During this tour we also learnt about the complicated political situation that exists today. The agreement made back in 1995, with the help of foreign superpowers as intermediators, stopped the fighting, but has had long lasting repercussions. Today Bosnia & Herzegovina is very poor and has an unemployment rate of around 40%.
Despite this, the Bosnian people we met were friendly, welcoming and positive. In fact the whole vibe to Sarajevo is just this! The old Ottoman bazaar area – called Baščaršija – is buzzing with tourists and locals alike. The area is filled with restaurants, right along side of tourist shops, mosques and museums.
Coffee shops serve Turkish tea and shisha, and the traditional Bosnian coffee served in coffee sets with Turkish delight and giant sugar cubes. Here the sugar doesn’t get tossed into the cup, rather a corner is dipped in then bitten off. With the sugar in your mouth, the strong coffee is sipped, to be sweetened on your tongue.
While Bosnia & Herzegovina is predominantly a Muslim country, one of it’s most important buildings is its brewery. The Sarajevo Brewery has been in the same location since 1864. It is located right over an underground spring to provide a pristine supply of water for the local beers. It was this spring that was the sole water supply during the 1992-95 siege. This made the brewery a target, but it was also one of the first places to be rebuilt. We called in to test out their wares – just to donate towards the restoration process of course.
Sarajevo is known my many people for three things – the 1992-95 siege, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, and the third thing is the 1984 Winter Olympics. An attraction that is becoming more popular is a visit into the hills to see the bobsled track. It is in disrepair, damaged during the war, and has been covered in graffiti, but this is its appeal.
Unfortunately we did not get up to the track. It’s not easy to get to without a hike through an isolated area that is acquiring a reputation for robberies and petty crime. With the high unemployment, this is not surprising. Tourists are easy targets with their expensive phones and cameras. It is becoming possible to visit the track now as part of organised day tours around the city, and one guide we were talking to said he was soon planning to offer group hiking tours with a guide, which would provide safety in numbers.
There are two old Ottoman Forts in the hills above Sarajevo. We spent a morning hiking first to the Yellow Fort, then across to the White Fort and back. Of course the way there was all uphill, so not the easiest to hike, but it only took about half an hour from the Town Hall to get to the Yellow Fort. It is quite possibly shorter than that, because we seemed to take a few extra twists and turns in the narrow streets that took us on a slightly longer route.
On our last day we did yet another walking tour. This one way actually a paid one, through Urban Adventures. We had booked this before we decided to do the second of the walking tours, and I was a little concerned it would double up on a lot. In reality, it didn’t. We saw some of the same places, but our guide told different stories. It helped to fill in the blanks, and give another voice to similar events.
After the tour we joined our guide at a local pub for a couple of drinks. We just sat an chatted about all sorts of things for a couple of hours. These are the experiences that make travel worthwhile.
Too soon we were elbowing our way onto our bus to Mostar. I can fairly confidently say we will return to Sarajevo one day. It was an enjoyable visit.
Arguably Mostar is as well known in the world as Sarajevo, but for a completely different reason. Mostar had a picturesque stari most, or old bridge. Nothing unusual about that in Europe though. But here the local men dive from the top into treacherous waters below that do not look deep enough. It reminds me of cartoons where a character is jumping off a huge ladder into a tiny pool at the bottom.
Our first afternoon was spend exploring the old town. I was surprised at the number of tour groups in the narrow streets, until it clicked that this is a popular day tour from nearby Dubrovnik where cruise ships dock in large numbers.
We stopped and enjoyed a coffee with a view of the bridge, watching the antics of the local men. They parade around, stretching, acting like they are going to dive, even standing up on the edge, then pull out a hat and point into it implying they want more money before they dive. Twice the crowd got into a frenzy thinking it was actually going to happen, but neither time was there a dive.
Eventually there was some action, but it was a tourist who had probably paid dearly for the experience. There was no fancy swan dive though, he just stepped off the bridge going feet first into the water below. The current is so strong he was quickly swept down the river before the people waiting in an inflatable boat below could help him to the side.
The following day we did a day tour with the owner of our hostel into the country side. Our first stop was Blagaj Monastery where we took a short boat ride into a cave. We had asked how far into the cave we would go and were told fifty metres, but in reality it was lucky to be ten metres. The water was milky and due to the minerals, an unusual green colour.
At our second stop at town of Pocitelj, we wound our way through the narrow streets to the highest point, and climbed up inside the old fort for some stunning views over the town. There is also an old mosque to visit here, and plenty of paces to stop for a quick drink or bite to eat.
The last stop was the one we had been waiting for, Kravice Waterfalls. Here we had the opportunity to jump in and swim under the waterfalls, but I could tell immediately that it was way too cold for me to go near that water. Plenty of other people were swimming, and Simon even braved it for a dip. He barely lasted less than a minute, regretting it as soon as he hit the cold water! Instead we spent our time chatting with other members of our group, enjoying the sunshine and just looking at the waterfalls!
Our final day in Mostar coincided with the Red Bull Cliff Diving’s Championships. We joined a huge crowd taking up every nook and cranny to get the best viewpoint to watch crazy people jumping off the Stari Most. It was mostly fun to watch, and had a great carnival atmosphere. One diver got it wrong and the emergency team swung quickly into action. For every dive there are four people already in the water below and medical boats only metres away. The diver was okay, but the swiftness of the response was fantastic to see. It also shows how dangerous this jump is, when even the professsionals get it wrong.
Unfortunately our day will not be remembered for the diving. It will be remembered for the horrible stomach bug we picked up somewhere along the way. I am fairly sure a dodgy burek is to blame, and even at the time we commmented that it seemed to be old and reheated. Why we didn’t stop eating then I don’t know! Our whole night was spent….well, erm, you don’t need the details, but let’s just say I feel very sorry for the others who had to share the bathroom with us!
In the morning we were meant to be making our way to Split in Croatia. Instead, since I was the less bad of the two of us, I spent the morning running around looking for a pharmacy. On the way I also picked up the favourite travellers cure, Coke. It apparently can kill the bugs and the sugar provides energy. Why do we drink this stuff normally when it can do this? A few drugs later, Simon was still unsure if he could cope with the bus trip, but my argument about our own apartment in Split won over the shared bathroom in Mostar, and we braved the journey to our final European country.
Urban Adventures “Scars and Smiles”
Starts at 9am for three hours
€24 per person
Hostel Franz Ferdinand
Jelica 4, 71000 Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina
€41 per night including breakfast
Hostel Lovely Home
Husrefa Cisica 11, 88000 Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina
€23 per night
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