Monday, September 30, 2013

Bosnia & Herzegovina: "Don't tell your mother until you're home"

"Stari Most", Old Bridge in Mostar
We moved on to Bosnia &  Herzegovina (BiH), yet another piece of the former Yugoslavia. Knowing that this is quite rugged territory we realized in advance that we would want someone else driving these roads. Additionally the tourism infrastructure is less developed here (a plus because there are fewer tourists, a minus because there is less advice/info available). So we contacted Miran of iHouse Travel in Mostar who responded with an amazing personal tour which in reality way exceeded our expectation. If anyone plans on visiting BiH (which you should if you can, we highly recommend him. See: Miran is from BiH but grew up in Italy and then returned to BiH after the conflict. His English, commitment to going above & beyond service-wise, knowledge of the country etc are all great. 

Note: The title of this comes from a BiH ad campaign featuring "adventurism".  See more in section titled "Outdoor Fun" and, if interested in more also see:

BiH consists of "the federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina" (somehow two separate countries but part of one larger one) plus the Republic of Srpska and the district of Brčko; The Ottomans occupied the area for 400 years. The Austro Hungarians for 40 but the Austro Hungarians left a much greater impact on the infrastructure building many public & private buildings…many with a new ottoman design rather than a typical European design so the buildings would be more appreciated by the locals who had developed a taste for Ottoman architecture over the centuries. It's really quite amazing in Mostar and in Sarajevo to see the mix of architectures.  

The red roof in front marks the end of the Ottoman market.
Note the European architecture of the newer buildings beyond. 
Note a lot of buildings have been rebuilt or restored since the "conflict" but there are still a significant number of empty shells of buildings, as well as walls showing the results of being shelled. While the "conflict" is a fact of life or an accepted part of history, the people seem focused on the future.  Below are photos of the restored Sarajevo Library, the shell of a building in Mostar waiting to be restored and the shelled wall of another building.


Our tour started in Trebinje, a city roughly 30 miles from Dubrovnik. It is a pleasant and relatively affluent town with a leafy main square. On a market tour we encountered many familiar vegetables and fruit and some cheese that was quite foreign to us. Actually taste-wise, it was clearly cheese.  But it becomes cheese by being poured in a sheep's intestine and aging there.  We enjoyed seeing the herb vendors (the local "pharmacists"). 

Cheeses in the "skins"
Herbalist at the Market
Overlooking Trebinje is the striking Orthodox Church of Nova Gračanica "dedicated to the Virgin Mary" and "built to resemble Gračanica Monastery in Kosovo", which must be quite lovely as well.
Interior of Nova Gračanica
We moved on to Mostar a conveniently located town for touring the Herzegovina part of BiH. Mostar is most known for the 16C Stari Most (Old Bridge) built by the Ottomans over the Neretva River. Surrounding the bridge is the Ottoman Old Town. Next is the newer Austro Hungarian newer town and the usual urban sprawl after that. We stayed in the heart of the Old Town (surrounded by vendors), a short walk from the newer town.

Konjic is between Mostar and Sarajevo and serves as the center for outdoor activities. It is also heavily Muslim, but you would hardly know it unless you are there during a Muslim event.

Sarajevo is yet another city with a distinct Ottoman Old Town surrounded by a newer European town. While there are pseudo Ottoman buildings in the European area, there seemed to be fewer than in Mostar. Sarajevo is, of course, where Archiduke Ferdinand was killed thus precipitating WWI.  Ervin of Toorico Tours welcomed us here like an old friend. We weren't really up for serious touring so he just helped us enjoy the town while we picked up a few facts along the way. 

Sign on street corner commemorating assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.
Scenery & Outdoor Fun
We immersed us in the dramatic scenery (including the Neretva River Canyon which felt like an endless Yosemite). There were moments on our white water rafting tour when this felt almost too literal, but we did in fact remain in the raft. The water was that gorgeous aquamarine and in places surround by massive canyon walls that went on and on. On the more difficult rapids, we had to force ourselves to ignore the beauty and paddle as directed. Sorry, we have few photos of this. It's very hard to capture electronically, but we still have the visions in our heads. 

Neretva River at our rest point.
We continued experiencing the dramatic landscape on a day hike. Actually it was a 2 hour drive on a logging road (with steep drop-offs), followed by 2+ hours of hiking and another 2 hour drive back that same logging road. 

Crossing a recent washout...  Edo stopped to
evaluate this one closely before
continuing. To the right is a shot
showing the drop off a few inches from
the vehicle.

The previous day we lost an encounter with a logging truck on one of these roads. Miran had to back-up for maybe one half mile and then turn around (in what felt like too small of a space) to find an alternate route to our rafting departure point.  (Note: You don't really need to take the logging roads to get to the rafting area, we just thought it was an appropriate way to experience the drama of the area.)
Logging crew attempting to pull huge log onto the road. Note left front tire is actually bending
and is positioned at the edge of the road.  (Miran our guide & driver is in the grey sweater
taking photos.)
The next obstacle in the road...a bull. Following this
we came across the huge truck coming to get this bull.
We can't help but wonder how the truck turned around.
There is just one more thing adding to the adventure. Apparently not all land mines have been removed. For instance, near the peak of our hike there was a warning sign and a former road totally blocked off because after the war they found 24 land mines to remove but couldn't quite remember if there were actually 25.  Hmmm.  Fortunately our guide was ahead of us in this area.  Of course one wonders how the heck we could have gotten back to the base without him. ;-)  Truthfully they are very careful about these warnings. We saw no reason for concern as long as one heeds the advice.

Traditional "Mine" warning sign.  And in the photo
to the right, the logs across the old road
enhance the warning.

We really enjoyed our wine tasting and light lunch at Podrum Berak winery. Everything there was home-grown/home-made, including the bread, prosciutto, cheese, and of course the wine. This was our first Bosnia Herzegovina wine tasting and we again discovered new grapes. Their Zilavka (white) and Blatina (red) are both very fine.

Photos from Podrum Berak Winery.  Note that is Prosciutto aging there with the wine.

We visited two other outstanding wineries in Citluk (near Mostar): Andrija and Carska. These are all family run.  But to our surprise, one of the family members was from Pittsburg.  She met her husband in school there.  They recently moved to BiH to be with his family.  Two of the children are in school and find it odd that they need to study English as if it is a second language.

Hard at work...
Most Muslims in BiH wear western clothes so it is easy to be unaware that BiH is roughly 45% Muslim. You only notice it in the call to prayer, the prevalence of beef products over pork products and the fact that Muslim run establishments such as a fine shopping center in Sarajevo don't allow serving alcoholic drinks.

Our intro to Orthodox Religion
The monks at the Trvdos winery make some fine wine, but not our favorites. This winery is more "known" and, being near Trebinje and therefore near Dubrovnik, it gets more visitors than the others. As part of the tasting experience at Trvdos, you get an introduction to the Orthodox Christian religion (BiH is roughly 30% Orthodox). Orthodox churches tend to have amazing paintings conveying their religious stories (but no statues which they seem to believe can become the focus of ones faith, in place of God.).

There is also a renowned Catholic pilgrimage site, "Our Lady of Medjugorje".  We were near but didn't investigate.

Pat found a little time for shopping ...lovely large Pashmina scarves are only 4€ or about $5 in Mostar, pottery is a good buy as well…but living in Mexico we really don't need to spend much time shopping for either. Actually her most surprising purchase was a jar of honey. She claims to dislike honey but has recently found that there are a couple she likes and, in this case, loved.  Unfortunately we forgot to find out what the bees were fertilizing at the time...

No comments:

Post a Comment