This year, as many before, we planned to spend some days on one of Croatia´s many islands and we decided for Mljet. We tend to go every year somewhere else and usually we want to get there as quickly as possible, driving the highway from Ljubljana first to Zagreb and on to Split and continue towards the south. But this time we decided to take a different way and to explore Bosnia & Herzegovina for a few days, driving from north to south, ending up in the coastal town of Neum from where we continued towards our final destination, Mljet in Croatia.
A country that used to be a part of YUGOSLAVIA, gained its independence in 1992 but went through some brutal years of CIVIL WAR afterwards, has today developed into a thriving country. Even though one can see the signs of war all over the country it seems like the people moved on and are peacefully living in this diverse country with different ethnic backgrounds. Not only the cultural part of the country´s history is a good enough reason to visit it, there are also many breathtaking landscapes in the forms of mountains and rivers and historic towns with stunning architecture, which is many times a reflection of the Muslim influence since the times when the country was under the Ottoman Empire.
When: August 2015
Visited: Jajce, Pliva lakes, Travnik, Sarajevo, Mostar, Pocitelj, Hutovo, Neum
How: with our car
Stayed in: small hotels
DRIVING & TRANSPORT
In general, the roads are in good condition but you can forget about fast highways. Most of the time you will be driving CURVY ROADS with slow traffic, here and there a local maniac will overtake you with lightning speed and you will most certainly be stopped by the police at least once. When you enter the country by car you need to show the SPECIAL CAR INSURANCE DOCUMENT (green card), if you do not have this you will have to “buy it there”, which in translation means you will need to pay them money. We only had a copy of it and after some discussion they let us in (Stara Gradiska border crossing). In Neum border crossings nobody asked about this document. TURN YOUR LIGHTS ON and keep them on at all times while driving. Especially directly after the border police will be waiting a few kilometres down the road. In general there was much police waiting to stop you, especially in the northern part of the country – take care of the speed limits and remember it is not wise to be the first one driving. The best to avoid being stopped is to drive behind some other car and hope they will stop them instead of you 😉
An underground garage in the middle of Sarajevo city centre, close to Bascarsija. Would not want to use the toilet in here but despite the dodgy appearance the car stayed safe during the night 😉
If you are not coming with your own transport, the best way is to use the bus system which will take you almost everywhere in the country. You can also travel by trains but they seem to be old and the service is often disrupted due to damaged tracks.
We stayed at SMALL HOTELS hotels which had only a few rooms and were situated in the centres. We had to leave the car somewhere else and sometimes walk with the bags uphill, but on the other hand we were just a short walk away from the main streets. We booked it in advance because we were there in the peak summer season and did not want to waist our time searching for a place to stay, but I´m guessing finding one should not be a problem. There were delicious breakfasts included and the people most friendly.
You will need to change money to “konvertibilna marka”, KM (2 KM = ~ 1€) or even better, just get it out of an ATM and the exchange rate will probably be the best in this case. Everything in Bosnia seems to be cheaper than in Croatia for instance, or anywhere in the EU. Food and drinks are really cheap, especially if you eat like a local. Local beer (Sarajevsko pivo) is the cheapest, but also the imported ones are not expensive. A burek with a yoghurt drink will cost around 2€, a small portion of ćevapi around 3€, beer is 1-2€. Hotel rooms (double) are between 20 and 50 €.
Sarajevo´s streets are full of SHOPS so you could just spend a couple of days shopping – not only handicrafts at the BAZAAR but also designer clothes, everything for a fair price. The most traditional Bosnian souvenirs would be CARPETS, SHAWLS, COPPERWARE and other traditional POTS and CUTLERY, LEATHER CLOTHES, SHOES & BELTS, BAGS, traditional house shoes or JEWELERY. There are many so-called “WAR SOUVENIRS” – for instance large calibre bullets from the Bosnian war which were reworked into souvenirs, old helmets and other artefacts from those times. You can try and haggle for the prices but don`t expect it to be like in other Arabic countries fro example.
Besides those, you can buy a selfie stick on almost every corner as well as the usual T-shirts, toys and magnets. If you are a COFFEE person buy some packs – the smell of it will revive memories once you are back home. Oh and always carry enough cash, because you will not be able to pay with cards everywhere.
Mmmm food, all that delicious food! Walking around in towns you can smell the CHARCOAL BURNING on almost every corner, cafe´s are full and people seem to really enjoy the lunch time with much food. I must say I´m not the biggest meat fan and I usually do not eat much of it at home, BUT here I just surrendered and ate much of it. Without a doubt I ate my best ĆEVAPI ever, in Travnik.
The most common food on a menu are ćevapi or CEVAPCICI – grilled minced beef meat formed in a small roll, usually served with or inside a LEPINJA (flat bread ) and chopped onions, kajmak (fresh cheese), AJVAR (relish made of roasted red peppers) or grilled bell peppers. PLJESKAVICA is similar to ćevapi, but it come sin a different form (as for the burgers). RAZNJICI – meat on skewers is also a good option. For a breakfast, brunch or a bite in between try the famous BUREK or PITA – traditional pastry rolled in a spiral and cut into sections can be filled with meat (mesni burek), spinach, cottage cheese (SIRNICA) or potatoes (KROMPIRUSA). If you prefer something more liquid order a BOSANSKI LONAC– a meat stew cooked over an open fire. Common are also PUNJENA PAPRIKA – grilled bell pepers filled with minced meat, or đuveč – rice with tomatoes, paprika and onions. MUSAKA (a layered dish of minced beef and potatoes), SARMA (minced meat and rice rolled in pickled cabbage leaves) , CUFTE (meatballs). Often you can also get just a normal portion of French fries next to the meat. Don`t forget the salads – the tomatoes, paprika, cottage cheese and onions make a meat meal fresher. A morning BOSNIAN COFFEE is a must and for those who like sweet – try a HALVA, BAKLAVA, HURMASICA or TUFAHIJA! Don`t be surprised if you don´t get alcoholic beverages everywhere and drink a yoghurt with your burek instead. Beer, wine and spirits are mostly available in Sarajevo`s restaurants and in the north of the country.
Besides being careful about all those police waiting to stop you on the roads, be careful not to wander around unmarked fields or drive on unpaved roads that are not on the maps – there is still a high danger risks of stepping on a landmine.
WHAT WE SAW AND DID
Our first stop was the historical town of Jajce – built in the 14th century, the town has GATES AS FORTIFICATIONS, as well as a castle with walls which lead to the various gates around the city and several CHURCHES and MOSQUES built in different times during different rules – making Jajce a rather diverse town in this aspect. It is most known as A PLACE WHERE YUGOSLAVIA WAS BORN, as a result of an antifascist movement in 1943. At the beginning of the Bosnian War, Jajce was inhabited by people from all ethnic groups, and was situated at a junction between areas of Serb majority to the north, Bosnian Muslim majority areas to the south-east and Croatian majority areas to the south-west. In the surroundings we find beautiful LAKES, WATERFALLS and MOUNTAINS, there is a nice big waterfalls in the centre of the town also.
For great views hike up to the FORTRESS and watch your step climbing on stones and walking on the edges. After you´ve done some walking around don´t forget to eat a burek or a portion of delicious ćevapi at one of the many places in the town centre. There is a parking close to the AVNOJ MUSEUM, from here you can reach everything on foot.
On the 29th and the 30th of November 1943, the Second Session of the Antifascist Council of the People’s Liberation of Yugoslavia (“AVNOJ”), with the participation of 142 representatives from BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA, CROATIA, SERBIA, MONTENEGRO, MACEDONIA and SLOVENIA, was held in this building, which later on in 1953 became a museum. These states decided about coordinating resistance against the region’s occupation during WWII and renounce their sovereignty to become part of the federal government of Yugoslavia. A document approving the decision to build Yugoslavia on federal principles, with full equality of its peoples and nationalities was signed and so Yugoslavia was born. There is an annual event called the “Days of AVNOJ” on 29th and 30th of November to remember and honour this important Session.
Most of the Museum´s original exhibits were lost during the war, but the Museum´s collection is still rich and gives one a good introduction and provides explanations about the events that happened then and the events that followed. Unfortunately not everything is also written on English so it might be hard for all the visitors to understand all the signs. Other than that, a must see!
Just 5 kilometres from Jajce you will find the SMALL AND THE LARGE PLIVA LAKE. There are many spots to spend a relaxed afternoon by the water or have a picnic by the lakes, just metres from the road. On the Small Pliva Lake these lovely small MILLS, built in the Turkish times, will most definitely attract your attention.
There are many idyllic spots around for a picnic, you can even cool the beer in the water while you prepare the grill. At the time we were there many had this idea, but still, the place was far from being overcrowded. Pliva lakes are also suitable for KAYAKING, CANOEING and FISHING, plus there are many hiking options in the near.
On our way from Jajce to Sarajevo (2,5hrs drive) we stopped for lunch, coffee and a walk around in the town of TRAVNIK. We ate at ĆEVAPZINICA HARI and the meat was really delicious! The service is quick and friendly and you will be lucky to get an empty table around lunch time – definitely worth a try getting one!
The CAPITAL AND THE LARGEST CITY in the country has become a popular tourist destination in the last years and is very well connected to the rest of Europe with its near by international airport. The city which is surrounded with Dinaric Alps and situated along the MILJACKA RIVER has hosted the WINTER OLYMPIC GAMES IN 1984 and is also the leading political, social and cultural centre of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The city is famous for its CULTURAL DIVERSITY which gives it a special atmosphere – one walks around Catholic and Orthodox churches, Mosques and Synagogues. During the Bosnian war, the city suffered a siege for nearly four years, but since the post-war reconstruction it is becoming a fast growing and thriving city. At the time of our visit the famous annual SARAJEVO FILM FESTIVAL (which started during the war) just took place.
Sarajevo´s old BAZAAR, historical and cultural centre was build in the 15th century is located on the north side of the Miljacka river and is home to several historic buildings, the most known probably the Gazi Hursev-beg Mosque. The name “Baščaršija” comes from Turkish language and means something like “the main market”. Today it is filled with small CAFES, RESTAURANTS and endless rows of SHOPS where you can buy some really nice high quality leather clothes, silver products, carpets or other clothes and antiques. It is the place to be and it´s the liveliest place also in the evening, so head for a traditional dinner to one of the lovely restaurants!
Not only in the evening, also during the day and in the morning the streets burst with live, people are enjoying their coffee with friends at one of the numerous cafe´s.
It is hard to ignore the past and many buildings remind us on those horrible years of war on almost every corner of the city.
“TUNEL SPASA” – “SARAJEVO TUNNEL OF LIFE”
The Sarajevo Tunnel was constructed between May 1992 and November 1995 in the middle of the BOSNIAN WAR, in order to link the city of Sarajevo (which was at the time entirely cutt off by Serbian forces) with the Bosnian territory on the other side of the airport, which was controlled by the UN. Because there was a lack of skilled manpower and tools, the tunnel was DUG WITH HANDS AND SHOVELS, every day for 24hrs and the workers were paid with one pack of cigarettes a day – a luxury item that was high on demand. It was USED FOR TRANSPORTING WEAPONS, FOOD, NEWSPAPERS ALCOHOL and other humanitarian supplies and also REPRESENTED THE ONLY WAY FOR THE PEOPLE TO GET OUT.
The tunnel was around 800 METRES LONG, with an average height of 1,60 metres and an average of 0,8 metres in width. At the deepest point the tunnel ran 5 metres under the airport runway. The entrance to the tunnel in Sarajevo was a garage of an apartment building, on the other side it was a HOUSE OF FAMILY KOLAR. Both entrances were under close guard by the Bosnian troops and people need to get a special permit in order to cross to the other side.
At first the tunnel was just a muddy path, later on they constructed railway track so that the transport was easier and even voltage cables, oil pipe and permanent lightning. The tunnel had no ventilation and was under constant threat of being flooded. Throughout the war BETWEEN 2 AND 3 MILION BOSNIAN PEOPLE AND UN SOLDIERS HAVE USED THE TUNNEL, the most known amongst them without a doubt Alija. Izetbegović, who became the first president of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The tunnel became a symbol for the city´s struggle and is now one of the biggest tourist attractions. The Kolar family`s house is transformed into a museum and visitors can enter the tunnel and walk for about 20 metres, just like the people did it back then. The rest of the tunnel collapsed by now. There are also photos and original clothing and other items, as well as a movie showing how it all worked.
It was time to move on and we were off to Mostar, which lies 130 kilometres south-west from Sarajevo, the drive to one of the most recognizable Bosnian towns took us about two hours, with some spectacular views on Neretva river along the way.
The city of Mostar, which got its name after the bridge over NERETVA RIVER (most = bridge), is the cultural capital and centre of the Herzegovina region. The old bridge was built in the 16th CENTURY by the Ottomans and it is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina´s most recognizable landmarks and considered one of the most exemplary pieces of ISLAMIC ARCHITECTURE in the Balkans.
Stari Most (Old Bridge) is protected by the two towers, each on one side of the Neretva river, called MOSTARI, after which the city got its name. The arch of the bridge was made of a local stone and stood there for 427 years until it was DESTROYED on 9 November 1993 during the Yugoslav war. After the destruction a temporary cable bridge was erected in its place and after the war plans for reconstruction were raised. The bridge was being RECONSTRUCTED using the same technology and materials as centuries ago – old stones from the bomber original bridge were gathered from the surroundings, divers helped collecting them out of the river. With the help of many international organisations the project was inaugurated on 23 July 2004. Since then there is the ANNUAL COMPETITION OF JUMPING competition of jumping from the bridge into the cold river – but it is only for the experienced divers and one has to go through a series of tests before entering the competition. If you spend some time in Mostar in the summer you will most probably see some brave men jumping from it – the best views are from the river banks under the bridge!
The old town is a WALKING ZONE zone with many restaurants, shops and bars. And many tourists! Despite people standing on every corner taking selfies it still remained its charm and has a very relaxed atmosphere.
Pocitelj is a smaller settlement along the main road from Mostar to the coastline, and it makes a pleasant stop if you are passing by. The town was damaged in the war and many people have moved out, but much of it was renovated by now and one can still see the remains of Pocitelj´s 16th century master works of ISLAMIC ART AND ARCHITECTURE.
Walk around the narrow streets and climb up the FORT for great views on the river valley, have some lunch in one of the restaurants by the road, visit the mosque and buy a traditional shawl.
We decided to take the less travelled road from Mostar to Neum, which took us pass HUTOVO BLATO NATURE RESERVE. A green landscape composed of marshlands that were created by the underground water system of RIVER KRUPA. It is also an important bird area, representing home for over 240 TYPES OF MIGRATORY BIRDS.
The road is narrow and there are some holes, so take care at driving. There are also many curves but not much traffic and the views are spectacular. It will take longer to get to Neum, but the landscape is worth the extra time.
This is the only town along Bosnia and Herzegovina´s short coastline (about 24 kilometres), making it THE COUNTRY´S ONLY ACCESS TO THE ADRIATIC SEA. There are many hotels and apartments built on the coastline´s steep hills and the beaches do get lots of visitors in the summer. If you are driving to Dubrovnik you will need to cross this small stretch of Bosnia, meaning you have to show your documents at the border, as you are exiting the EU zone and entering again in about 20 kilometres. In the last years the border is more or less a formality. Once you are there remember to fill up the tank – gas is cheaper than in Croatia and so are many other things, so many come or stop here only for the shopping.
Our time in Bosnia and Herzegovina ran out and we spent the next 10 days relaxing on the beaches of Mljet, secretly thinking of all the unseen places in the country that we have to visit on our next trip down there!
BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA WITH KIDS
Visiting Bosnia & Herzegovina with kids is perfectly fine. Actualy they will probably love the many historical sites where they can climb up the stone walls, look out through small holes of the walls and hide in the dark chambers without doors. I´m sure they will not miss the real playgrounds too much, at least Lu didn´t. And we´ve really seen no playgrounds.
The only thing you should take care of is that they don´t wander off to unprotected open spaces where a danger of mines could occur. Otherwise it´s a very safe country to take your kids to and the local people are generally very friendly to travellers with children, it´s also very normal to take them to a restaurant late in the evening or similar. Food and snacks are accessible literately everywhere, besides the very meaty specialities there are lots of fresh fruits being sold just by the roads, so no one stays hungry for too long. We had no problems travelling as a family and would definitely recommend going there!
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