A really early start for us this morning as we are being collected for a full day tour to Mostar down near Croatia
Our driver turned up at 7.50 as we were still trying to cram in our breakfast. Not a problem as we are the only three so it is a personal tour.
Got underway couple of minutes after 8.00 and started the trip south. It was quite a mild feeling -9C as we left Sarajevo. Our driver was Samir, a Bosniak, aged 32 and married with one little boy. He is a teacher by profession but those jobs are very hard to find and even harder for him after he took a year off and slid down the scale of experience. He turned to tourism as a way of making money for his family and gets by with what he is earning.
He gave us a little background of his family experience in the war. He was around 6 when the war began. His family lived in a village about 30km from Sarajevo. His father had a premonition that something was about to happen so sent his wife and Samir to stay with her mother for a few days. He ended up staying years.
Back in the village, Serb forces came and rounded up people who were still there. Before the war people of all religions co-existed without problem and now mainly Bosniak men were taken away and 70 were killed. Fortunately, Samir’s dad and grandfather had managed to hide themselves and avoided being taken away.
After several days of hiding, his grandfather became ill and needed medical attention so both men went to the house of their neighbour who answered the door dressed in Serb uniform. Both men were going to be taken away and killed but the neighbour said they weren’t bad people and they should go to the concentration camp.
After some time in the camp Samir’s father and then his grandfather managed to escape but before that they were put to work doing hard labour. One of the things they were forced to do was destroy a mosque and build a toilet block from the rubble.
Both men survived the war and eventually went back to the village but their home was destroyed. They eventually rebuilt the house and went back there to live. His parents are still alive and his grandfather only passed away recently despite all the hardships of the war.
We got chatting with Samir as we headed south about the way of life in Bosnia and his perspective of what may happen here. He has thought about leaving Bosnia and had earmarked either Australia or Canada and was interested in what prospect he had to come to Australia and how much it would cost him.
We made our way to a town called Konjic where we made a stop to have a look at a bridge.The old stone bridge in Konjic is one of the four most important in Bosnia and Herzegovina, second only to the Old Bridge in Mostar. It was built in 1862. During withdrawal in March 1945, the bridge was bombed heavily by the Germans, and only stone pillars remained standing. Since it was the only pass over the Neretva River, the following year a new concrete bridge was built below the old remaining bridge. In 2006, the Municipality of Konjic started restoration of the remains of the old bridge with funds from the Government of Turkey.
As we drove further on Samir heard on the radio about the forthcoming memorial for a Bosniak woman named Hadžera Ćatović-Bijedić. In 1941 at the age of 20 she was amongst 700 Bosniak people (Bosnian Muslims) who were thrown into natural very deep seemingly bottomless pits in a town called Čavkarice near Mostar.
Local children heard noises from the pit but they believed it to be demons are bad spirits and parents warned them to stay away. After 63 days, a brave man decided to investigate the pit and discovered this then young woman amongst the rotting bodies of 700 murdered people who had just disappeared. She became a national heroine and died in her 80’s.
We had been talking with Samir about Bosnian food burek so he asked was the burek we had greasy. When we replied yes, he said he would stop for us in a small town where he had discovered by accident, while tour guiding, a lady who made the best burek for the local people and he recommended we try that as it was not greasy at all. Made the required stop and, yes it was definitely nicely non-greasy and extremely tasty to boot. We had meat and Vanessa had a cheese one. Got to see the lady actually rolling her next batch of meat burek out the back.
Next stop was in a town called Jablanica. During the Second World War, Bosnia was the scene of some of the fiercest battles between the Yugoslav Partisans (the Communist guerrilla-resistance) and the Axis forces. When seemingly outnumbered in a battle the Partisans decided on a ruse to blow up the bridge slightly to convince the Nazis they were heading in the opposite direction. The Nazis believe this and they were the attacked and overwhelmed by the Partisans who then repaired the bridge.
However, the Nazis were able to organise a Luftwaffe strike and the bridge was actually destroyed the next time. It was rebuilt in the same spot after the war. The events of the battle were depicted in a 1969 Yugoslavian movie which featured well-known Hollywood actors Yul Brynner and Orson Welles. To make it realistic, the Director decided to really blow up the bridge. However, they could not actually use the footage because it was all obscured by smoke and they had to use a scale model on a sound stage in Prague to film the actual destruction of the bridge.
We now made our way to the highlight of our tour – the city of Mostar and the Mostar Bridge. On the way to Mostar Bridge we passed over Crooked Bridge. This bridge is a miniature version of The Old Bridge - Stari Most. It was built in 1558, eight years before to the more famous Old Bridge, and it is believed to have been built as a trial attempt for building of the bigger bridge. It was destroyed in 2001 by the river ﬂooding, it has recently been rebuilt.
Now for the piece de resistance – Stari Most or Old Bridge. It was built in 1556 by the Ottomans and stood over the Neretva River to join both halves of the town. The Old Bridge stood for 427 years, until it was destroyed in 1993 by Croat military forces during the Croat–Bosniak War. The bridge was eventually reconstructed to the exact style and original type of materials and was completed in 2004.
Tourists and I guess locals can pay to do a bridge jump. For €25 you can jump the 24m high bridge. Throughout history young men took on this tradition to impress woman or to prove they were men. Now it is thrill seekers and adrenelin junkies who do it. In winter time it costs you €100 as the Neretva River is considered the coldest river in Europe. Samir seemed to think the practice was safe as only a few people had ever died doing it!!!!!!
Certainly a beautiful bridge even if it is not the original 400 plus year old one. It was lovely walking through the cobbled streets around Mostar Old Town and walking down to the river bank below. There are several bits of the old bridge which have been pulled from the river and left on the bank as a reminder of the old bridge. I cannot believe how turquoise blue the water in the river is.
Time to move on to our next destination which was at Blagaj tekke. Blagaj Tekke was created between 1446 and 1520 and has had a very troubled history and was built at the base of a 200m cliff wall and next to a cave. The cave leads in 15m to an underground river that flows out to create the Buna River. The building was destroyed a couple of times by rockslides but was eventually restored and is Sufi monastery. Sufi are a branch of Islam who put themselves into a trance like state. Have seen them in Egypt and Turkey but the branch here are not the spinning or whirling dervishes. They practice a mystical form of Islam.
Stopped in the café here for a warm mocha and cup of tea and pitstop before pressing on to the next destination for us which was the Kravica Waterfall. Not the largest waterfall we have seen by any account but very pretty and Samir noted that we were only about 5km from the Croatian border crossing. Tempting to get him to drive us to the border just to say we had notched up our 10th country this trip but it was already getting a little late and we had a 3 hour drive back to Sarajevo ahead of us.
One last stop on our way back to Mostar and this was at Počitelj, a village first known around 1444 and was in the hands of the Hungarians. In 1471 to 1868 it was in the hands of the Ottomans and then the Austro-Hungarians. Its buildings including a fort and mosque are quite distinctive in that they have stone walls as well as stone slab roofs.
Time to settle back in the car after a quick photo shoot and a 45 min drive to Kravice where Samir had decided to take us for a late lunch early dinner. It was a restaurant renowned for its roast lamb on a spit. We arrived there just before nightfall and were able to take a look at the beautiful scenery along the river we had travelled beside all day.
Vanessa was lucky enough to score tomato soup and Eloise and myself had the roast lamb which came with roast potatoes. Samir opted for the goulash with mashed potatoes. The roast lamb was as delicious as he stated. Vanessa was a little dismayed to see another poor sheep going around on the spit (head and all) as we left the restaurant.
It was a 1.5 hour drive back to Sarajevo and we arrived just around 6.30 pm. All three of us starting to show signs of slowing right down now as we near the last this incredible 3 and a bit week trip.
We managed to stay up until around 11pm before all crashing out like lights.