From Split, Croatia we caught an early morning bus to Bosnia and Herzegovina. We spent the next week in the capital city of Sarajevo and a small touristy town called Mostar.
Since we had not done much research on the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina before arriving, we were a bit surprised on a number of occasions during our visit. The first surprise came during our bus ride through the country on our way to Sarajevo when we noticed each small town we passed through had at least one (and often more) mosques in them. This is when we learned that Bosnia and Herzegovina is 51% Islam, followed by 45% Christian (Orthodox and Catholic). We later found out the comparatively high Muslim population is due to the spread of Islam under the Ottoman Empire during the 14 century. During our stay, the 5 time daily call to prayer that echoed throughout the city reminded us of our brief layover in Dubai earlier this year.
Despite the multi-religious makeup of the country it did occur to us that most people seemed to be living in harmony. We found the people to be some of the most helpful and friendly that we have met traveling.
While we came to see the Latin Bridge and learn more about the war in the 90’s, we were pleasantly surprised by how much more the city had to offer.
- The Latin Bridge – In the middle of the old town sits a rather unremarkable bridge crossing the Milijack River. While this bridge is rather old, it was its not so distant past that caught our attention. The northern end of the bridge marks the spot where Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, was assassinated and thus starting World War I. We were REALLY excited about seeing this pivotal place that shape the world we know today.
- Tunnel of Hope – During the siege in the 90’s, the tunnel was the only way that supplies from the neighboring free Bosnia state were able to find there way to the residents of Sarajevo, and thus was also the only way the city could withstand 4 years of constant bombardment. Today, a small part of the tunnel has been turned into a museum. We got to actually enter and walk through approximately 50 meters of the original tunnel. We also watched a video that showed actual scenes shot during the siege, many of which showed the transport of various supplies through the tunnel. Additional information about the siege can be found below.
A Brief History of the Siege of Sarajevo – In the early 90’s after the breakup of Yugoslavia, the country began to move towards becoming an independent state. Serbians saw this as an opportunity to launch an offensive to try to claim the area for their own. For over 4 years the Serbian forces perched atop the surrounding mountains and shelled Sarajevo from above until the conflict finally ended with the signing of Dayton Accord.
- 1984 Bobsled Track – Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics and still has the remnants of several of the structures they built in the surrounding mountains for the games. The most famous of these is the bobsled track. We actually walked to the track from our hostel in the middle of the city, and it was a great adventure! The journey took about an hour and a half to reach the track, and it took us through various neighborhoods, a cemetery, open fields, and a forest. But, the entire way was STEEP and proved to be quite the physical challenge. Most of the track has fallen into considerable disrepair since its glory days in 1984, and it has now become the concrete canvas for local graffiti artists.
- Pod Lipom – At the recommendation of our hostel staff we tried some traditional Bosnian cuisine at a restaurant called “Pod Lipom”. We dined on stuffed peppers, stuffed onions, stuffed zucchini, sour dough soup, pita bread, and several other dishes. SUPPOSEDLY Bill Clinton also actually ate here at one point. It was one of the more delicious dinners that we have had.
- Main Square of the Old Town – The main square of the old town was quite scenic. It had a much more middle eastern feel than any of the other European cities we have visited. Shops sold various metal works, and most and restaurants generally served food similar to what you would expect at a middle eastern restaurant.
From Sarajevo we headed back west towards the city of Mostar. The city is a tiny, but had one of the most beautiful old towns we have seen. The only real tourist attraction is an iconic bridge in the middle of the old town. Mostar can easily be done as a day trip, however, we booked 3 nights as it was a very affordable town and we had a LOT of trip planning for the upcoming months to get done.
- Mostar Weather – When the devil was scouting out where to place hell, Mostar could not have been far down the list (in reference to the HEAT). It is hot, WAY too hot. The average high when we were there was around 108 degrees Fahrenheit, and felt quite a bit warmer. This made no sense to us as it is considerably warmer than say, Greece, which is quite a bit further south. In the end, the heat actually worked out well for us as it gave us no desire to go out during the heat of the day, so we stayed in our heavily air conditioned room doing trip planning.
- Mostar Bridge – This bridge sits at the heart of the old town and plays a role in its everyday culture, while it was actually destroyed during the war and later rebuilt, it is still really beautiful. Each morning we took a stroll to snap some photos when the temperature was a balmy upper 80s to lower 90s. The bridge is around 25-30 meters above the river below. Apparently it is part of the local culture for a young man to jump from the bridge in order to truly be considered an adult. Our host at out hostel told us that he jumped during the beginning of the war because he wanted to be a ‘man’ in society if he died.
- Mostar Mosque – Mostar, as with most of the country, had multiple mosques in the city. As neither of us had been in a one and it was only a few dollars to enter, we decided to drop in for a visit. All-in-all it was a quick tour, only really one main room to see, but we were able to ascend the minaret (a super tight walk up) and get a great view of the city.