|We weren’t quite sure of what to expect of Bosnia. As we were crossing the border from Croatia, we were reading the guidebook warnings about land mines still left from recent wars. And how Bosnia i Herzegovina is in reality two nations in one with some friction in between to keep things interesting. This was evident even in road signs across the country half the country using the same lettering as the English alphabet and the other half only using Cyrillic!
Well, we entered the country with a bit of trepidation, but only to be delightfully surprised! Bosnia would easily be one of the highlights of our trip – probably because it was so culturally diverse to what we had already seen. The Turkish Ottoman empire had ruled in all the countries in these regions for about 700 years, but the influence was most evident here. We eexperienced this even on our first night in Bosnia. We had booked a place on line in a town called Blagaj which was in fact an old Ottoman house now turned into a historic mini-museum! It had 3 rooms they would rent as accommodation fully decorated in period style. Situated right on a river, you could hear the water from the window. By day, visitors come to see the relics and as well as the house and its garden. The garden is best described as 3 small islands in the river joining with small bridges. It was all very quaint and very special experience for all of us. Even the breakfast served was traditional, serving coffee in a jazve!
Blagaj had a dervish monastery to see too. It was built on the source of the Buna river and was very tranquil (probably the sign at the door helped to maintain this tranquility!). We enjoyed tea served in traditional "kamar barik" glasses (even the kids liked the tea). From there we went to explore the nearby city of Mostar. The old town part of this city is all heritage listed. ‘Most’ meaning bridge, the old town essentially pivots around a gorgeous bridge, the streets filled with old buildings all selling local crafts and souvenirs. Impact of recent wars was even seen here as the souvenirs included things like pens and key rings made of spent bullets!
Lunch in Mostar was another highlight. We picked one of the restaurants in the “tourist strip” and was delighted with the traditional food. A selection of local specialities was offered including a range of kebabs, dolmas etc all very tasty.
Being enthusiastic and always pushing barriers, we were determined to reach Sarajevo by night and indeed we did. However on route we had some interesting encounters. The first was the Bosnian police . Erik is a great driver and was cautious throughout the trip but they got us on a technicality we were not used to in Australia. We didn’t have our headlights on during the day. We knew about this and practically all the way from Germany we had been driving with headlights on but at this instance we just started driving off from Mostar and anxious of whether we would make it to Sarajevo we had forgotten to turn our headlights on. It turned out to be an interesting experience! We were first told we had to pay a fine of 40EUR but had to go to court to pay. Realising we were tourists and were not planning on staying in Mostar that night we were given the option to take the paperwork to a nominated bank and pay the fine there (mind you the fine by then got reduced to half the amount). On further realisation that this was not a realistic option as it was 4.45pm and banks closed at 5pm we paid the officer 15 EUR directly and even received an official receipt!
Amused by the ‘incident’ we drove towards Sarejevo. Our GPS was not registering Bosnia so we had a large country map but the only city map we had was the vague map in the guidebook which was better than nothing but not detailed enough for us to find our way to the hostel we were to stay that night. All we knew was the general direction and that it was meant to be in a suburb sitting on a hill top above the main touristic old town area. Navigating through the narrow streets of Sarajevo at night in a minivan started to prove difficult, and road signs and street names seemed to be optional (at least to us ). At one point we reached a ‘T’ junction and had to make a call which way to go. As we knew the place we were going to was on a higher point Annie made the call to turn left to climb up the hill. This proved to be a huge mistake. No sooner had we turned into the street that we realised all the parked cars were heading the other direction. It was a narrow one way street and we are driving the wrong way with what felt like a truck at that moment. I don’t know how Erik turned the car around, somehow God gave him the ability and he did! Not long after that we literally stumbled on the place we were trying to get to’ ‘Haris Youth Hostel’ (www.hyh.ba).
This little hostel won our hearts, probably the prime reason was because of Haris, whom Erik had met at the recent Hostelworld conference in Dublin.
Haris, a young guy, met us and after making sure we settled in (even arranging a nearby parking for our ‘truck’) took us to the city on foot and essentially gave us a night city tour. On the way he pointed out the graveyard a clear reminder of the not so distant conflicts, the white headstones looking very eerie at night. We had dinner together (more yummy kebab ) and chatted about life in Bosnia and his memories of the war and how life had been before and now plus how he had come to start the hostel. It was such a great opportunity to talk to him and learn a little about the past and present and how he basically stumbled upon this business just to keep his family going during the tough years. Haris was such a humble and down to earth guy, with modest yet inspirational vision. Even around the hostel you saw hand written notes on the walls with nice words about Haris. And indeed we thought he was what made the hostel so special. Thanks Haris for your genuineness and hospitality!
As much as we would have loved to stay in Bosnia more we had to push forward.
Next stop Serbia!