Trip report Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia in October 2010
Here is the link to the full Fodor's Report entry:
My husband and I recently took a 10 day trip to Sarajevo, staying in the city except for a four day road trip to the Southern Dalmatian Coast.
We had never spent time in the Balkans before and were fascinated and captivated by our brief visit to this part of the world. Our main impetus for choosing Sarajevo was the chance to visit a friend who has been living there for several years. We originally thought we would just spend 7 days in Sarajevo with an overnight in Mostar, but she persuaded us to add on the extra days so we could see a little of the countryside and the Croatian coast.
Before we left I read:
Lie in the Dark, a mystery set during the siege of Sarajevo by Dan Fesperman. I
also read his second mystery, The Small Boat of Great Sorrows, while I was
Love thy Neighbor: A Story of War by Peter Maass (story of the 1990's conflict
as seen through the eyes of a reporter)
Black Lamb, Grey Falcon (sections on Croatia and Bosnia) by Rebecca West
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks ( novel about the Sarajevo Haggadah
through time, different owners)
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
Back home I have just finished Hearts Grown Brutal: Sagas of Sarajevo by Roger Cohen
We watched the films Welcome to Sarajevo and Hunt for Justice.
Day 1: Sarajevo
The weather report for our first few days in Bosnia had been for intermittent rain, and it was cloudy as we flew over the Alps all the way to the Sarajevo airport. But as we arrived the sun came out and for the whole trip we had remarkably good weather.
Our friend met us at the airport. We stopped to get some money (BiH currency,
KMs) from an ATM but were not successful. Although we had called in advance to report
where we would be traveling, the transactions for BiH and Croatia were all blocked during our trip. This would have been a major problem without our friend, but we were able to survive by changing US cash and euros we had brought with us and borrowing from her. Our credit cards did work so we used them in Croatia, but very few places in BiH take credit cards. We were able to use the ATM at the Munich airport for euros with no trouble.
The city grew up along the banks of the Miljacka River which runs east to west. From the narrow flat river valley hills rise quite sharply on both sides. The population of Sarajevo is estimated to be about 300,000 now, but was over 400,000 in the early 1990's. There was a large diaspora because of the war/siege and about 10,500 people were killed. Many people relocated to other parts of Europe and the U.S. Burlington, Vt , for example, has a large (for Vermont) refugee population. English is widely spoken in Sarajevo. We also found German to be useful.
Most of those who live in Sarajevo now (at least 85%) are Bosniaks; before the war there was much more of a mix of Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs. The city had been known for its blending of the different groups. There were many mixed marriages and many close friendships across ethnic/religious lines.
On our drive into the center of Sarajevo we saw many war-damaged buildings--everything from totally abandoned shells to places with bullet and mortar damage in the walls.
The city has been largely restored since the siege but there are many building projects going on.
Our friend's apartment is within easy walking distance of the Old Town, at the northern end of a pleasant park. There are many embassies in the neighborhood. As we drove past the park, she pointed out a memorial fountain to children killed during the siege from 1992 to 1996. Of the 10,500 people who died, about 1500 were children. Many more were injured. Our friend explained that the city inhabitants slowly realized that snipers were actually targeting children to demoralize the population. I had read a lot about the war before our visit but had not encountered this particular fact and was in tears for the first of many times during this trip.
Just before we set out, our friend called us out on the terrace again to hear our first "call toprayer." This is a hauntingly beautiful moment repeated five times a day throughout the city. There are many mosques in the city (65?). After the war other countries like Saudi Arabia gave money for building mosques. Most broadcast the call to prayer but a few have live callers.
We walked downhill through the park and down into the main part of the old city and set off on the main pedestrian street, the Ferhadija. The first part of this street (heading from west to east) is full of older Austro Hungarian buildings. Then you reach an abrupt dividing line where east meets west and the Baščaršija, the old Ottoman part of the city, begins. Due to jet lag, my memories of that first afternoon/evening walk are a little blurred. I know we stopped twice to buy pastries, once at a very Austrian style bakery where we bought some strudel filled with poppy seeds and once to buy baklava and similar Turkish-style pastries. We went into the meat and cheese market. We stopped to look at a store with oriental rugs in the Morica Han, an old Ottoman Inn dating from the sixteenth century. We visited a shop on the Kazandziluk, a very old street/alley with traditional coppersmith crafts. We went into the courtyard of the Gazi Husrev Bey's mosque but decided to return for a real visit when we were better rested.
Our friend explained that we would see very few other tourists in Sarajevo. Shortly after this a huge group of people with badges appeared. She amended her observation to say we would see very few independent tourists; we might see groups like this who were in the city for conferences and a few tour groups from Turkey.
As our energy started to fade, we had some traditional Bosnian food at a restaurant on a side street then went home for a dessert of baklava. It was warm enough to eat outside with sweaters. We opted to do this for most of the trip in order to escape the cigarette smoke indoors.
Day 2–more Sarajevo
We set out in the morning around 8:45 to make final arrangements for the car rental for our Croatia trip. The rental company is located in a big hotel/office building complex called the Radon Plaza a few miles west of the old city. I think this is a 5 star hotel but it and the neighborhood lack any charm/character and it is far from tourist sights. I certainly would not recommend staying there. There is a revolving restaurant at the top so we went up for some coffee and to see the view before heading out for a tour of the city.
A slight digression about coffee: drinking coffee is an important part of the local culture. There are many, many cafes throughout the city. "Bosnian" coffee is what most of us would call Turkish coffee. The coffee is boiled with water in a special pot called a dzezva and served in small espresso size cups with cubes of sugar. As you reach the end of the cup you are left with some sludgy grounds. At least in Sarajevo other types of coffee like espresso and even cappuccino are also served, and I have to admit I preferred the espresso to the Bosnian style coffee.
After our coffee break we left the Radon Plaza for our next destination, the "Romeo and Juliet" Vrbanja bridge, near the university. In 1993, a Muslim woman and her Serbian boyfriend/fiance were killed on the bridge while they were trying to leave the city. The bridge is also known as the Suada and Olga bridge in memory of the first two people killed in the war, two young women shot by a sniper during a demonstration in April 1992. The memorial tablet to them reads “A drop of my blood flowed, and Bosnia did not drain”.
From the river we walked up to the History museum. Most of the exhibits are about the 1992-95 war and the siege of Sarajevo. It is hard to imagine how only 15 years ago people lived through these terrible conditions in a modern European city.
We walked through the surrounding area including the infamous Sniper's alley and the Holiday Inn where journalists stayed during the war, It is still the ugly mustard yellow color described in another post. Nearby, there are some beautiful old trees along the river and new park benches had recently been installed. Ironically, the trees are still there because this area was so dangerous during the war that no one was able to use them for firewood; trees in other more protected areas were cut down.
By this point it was lunch time and we caught a cab downtown. With three people, the cab was no more expensive than the tram for a short distance. Our friend took us for Cevapi, a very popular dish in BiH, Small grilled lamb sausages, five for a half portion and ten for a full portion, are stuffed in a thin pita-like pocket bread. Our friend ordered ours with chopped onions, and kajmak, a delicious soft cheese. It looked like a lot of food when it arrived, but I managed to polish it off.
After lunch we wandered some more through the old town. We walked through the old covered market (Gazi Husrefbegov bezistan), a massive basilica-like stone building with many shops. We walked through the famous pigeon square with its Sebilj (fountain), then crossed the river to the south side.
We had a good view of the National Library (former City Hall), a beautiful building built in 1896 in “psuedo Moorish” style. It was heavily shelled in 1992 and 90% of the collection was destroyed. There is an extensive renovation project going on, and the building is covered in scaffolding.
We then walked along the river and back across the Latin Bridge, site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in 1914. Rebecca West has a LONG description of their visit and the assassination attempts (there was an earlier unsuccessful one the day of their death) in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon . There is a small museum at the corner NW of the bridge with several good historic plaques on the outside. In general, Sarajevo has some useful historic markers with English translations at many tourist sites. Most of the information inside the museums is also translated into English.
Back in the main part of the old Ottoman section of the city, We visited an art gallery, a clothing store owned by a woman who is also a pianist and was practicing for a concert and a book store along one of the side streets. We also visited another carpet shop in a small courtyard and watched some workmen doing repair work on the minaret of one of the mosques.
On the way “home” we passed the Old Synagogue, and decided to go in. Our friend was quite excited because she had never gone inside before (many of the opening hours are during her work hours). The synagogue/museum is very interesting. The ground floor still has services on special occasions. The rest of the building has a well-done historical exhibit. Sarajevo had a Jewish population of about 12,000 before WW II. They were descended from Sephardic Jews who left Spain in the early 16th century and a later group of Ashkenazi Jews who arrived in the 17th century. Most died during the war, and some of the survivors emigrated to Israel. The city still has a small Jewish community of about 700 people.
We spent a few hours back at the apartment before returning to the old town for dinner. We had made a reservation for 8:30 at
Dveri, a nice restaurant near the tourist office. Dinners out start fairly late and tend to be long affairs, and tables are not expected to turn over during the evening. Prices are very reasonable by U.S. standards. Local house wines are good and most meals end (and/or begin) with liqueurs.
Before going to bed, my friend and I turned on the TV to check the weather forecast. To her horror, she found that her selection of cable channels had suddenly changed. She could no longer get CNN and there was a new channel featuring VERY explicit lesbian sex. The only positive note was a good forecast for the coming weekend.
Day 3 -- Sarajevo to Croatia
Our friend had arranged to take Monday and Tuesday off, so we set out for our long weekend road trip to the Dalmatian coast on our Day 3, Saturday. The car rental company delivered the car to the apartment at 9 and we packed up. We were much better stocked for the road trip than we would usually be on a vacation abroad, thanks to the contents of our friend's cupboards, including wine.
There are several possible routes from Sarajevo to the coast, depending on how quickly you want to get there and what you want to see on the way. We decided to take one that would allow us stop in Mostar in the morning, then Blagaj to see the basic sights and have trout for lunch, then Stolac to see the large
necropolis of stećcci (medieval tombstones) then on toward the coast via Ljubinje and Trebinje. Our friend explained that the section Stolac- Ljubinje -Trebinje was more scenic and had much less traffic than the usual route south but that the road was still heavily mined so we would not be able to pull off at all for a long stretch. This made me nervous but we decided to try that route.
As we started off on the main road west out of Sarajevo at about 9:30, our friend remarked happily that her husband would never believe we had left so early. (He has stayed in the states during her time in Sarajevo, and they visit back and forth regularly. They often go to the coast when he is visiting her in BiH.) A few minutes later, the early start was completely erased by a minor traffic accident. The car in front of us slowed unexpectedly at a green light. My husband could not go around it because of traffic in the other lane. He slowed down and the car behind him also slowed down, but the car behind that one was going too fast. It hit the middle car which in turn hit the rear of our rental car. The slow driver in front drove off, apparently oblivious, and the rest of us were left to deal with the accident.
We drove forward and pulled off to the side but the other two cars stopped right where they were in the middle of this major route. We learned that this was what we should have done, but fortunately were able to plead that we were tourists who didn't understand the local rules. The driver in the middle came up and our friend and my husband went back with him to the scene of the impact.
I stayed with the car with a very pleasant older Bosnian man who spoke a little German and even less English. I thought he was telling me that he was waiting for a bus, but apparently he was just passing by on foot, because he eventually left after making sure that we didn't need anything and assuring me that he was my "Bosnian friend." The police and a worker from the rental agency came and finally we were cleared to leave the accident scene. The rental car was drivable and didn't have much damage, but the rear left light panel was loose and the brake light wasn't working, so we changed cars at the rental agency before setting off.
At this point it was about 12:30, and our schedule needed revision. We decided to drive as far as Jablanica, about an hour away, for lunch and to regroup over food. The trip to Jablanica goes into progressively higher mountains. The road is winding and has quite a few tunnels, some without lights. The drivers are rather aggressive with a disturbing habit of passing on blind curves.
The mountain scenery is very beautiful, As we came to Jablanica we drove along the Nervetva River which is an unusual turquoise color. The town is known for a series of restaurants specializing in jagnjetinja, delicious lamb grilled on spits over large open fires. The biggest of these restaurants is Restaurant “Zdrava voda” (Healthy water). It has a car park large enough for tourist buses and a menu featuring items like trout as well as the lamb. We stopped at another smaller place a little farther down the road where we feasted on lamb, potatoes and cabbage salad.
Over our substantial lunch, we revised our touring schedule. We decided it made sense to skip Mostar and Blagaj on our way to the coast since we could see them later on a day trip from Sarajevo and we wanted to reach the Adriadic by sunset. We decided to stick to part of the original pre-accident schedule and stop at Stolac because Radimlja, the necropolis site, is right off the highway and easy to see and we would be returning from Croatia by a different route.
The route through Herzegovina was also very scenic with a different, much warmer, more Mediterranean climate than Bosnia. There are vineyards and roadside fruit stands. We bought some fresh figs to supplement our generous road food supplies.
Our friend had warned us that the Radimlja necropolis site, despite its major historic importance, was not at all well developed and maintained, but I was still surprised at how neglected it was. No one else was there. There were indications that a visitor center is being developed but the only information was a board at the entrance. The Stećcci(singular: Stećcak), are impressive. This is the one of the largest concentrations of stećcci in BiH. with 122 tombs. The stones
date from the 15th and 16th centuries (or possibly earlier according to some sources). Others were destroyed when the Čapljina-Stolac road was built straight through the necropolis during the Austro-Hungarian period. Unfortunately due to the limited information, we had to develop our own hypotheses as to why certain motifs appeared on numerous stones.
From Stolac we basically kept going until we reached Croatia. There were many possible stops along the way (as long as you stick to areas without mines). Both Stolac and Trebinje sound like charming cities but we did not stop to explore them. Beyond Trebinje the road turns south toward the coast. The first glimpse of the Adriatic is very impressive as you approach it suddenly from the hills above and the road gradually winds down to meet the coastal highway.
We had reservations at a small hotel in Plat, a town south of Dubrovnik along an area of the coast known as the Dubrovnik Riviera. Our friend has stayed at this hotel, the Apartmanti Ana, many times with family and friends. She discovered it by accident as she was trying to find another hotel also with the name Ana on a reservation web site. The rooms are simple and the main attraction are the balconies with a stunning view of the Adriatic. The owners greeted our friend warmly and had left us a huge plate of fruits from their garden. The weather was very warm, and we quickly moved out to the balcony area with wine and snacks to enjoy the beautiful sunset.
We planned to take the bus (on the coastal road right behind the hotel) south to the next major town, Cavtat (not wanting to drive after drinking, and planning to drink more at dinner), but when we got to the stop we had just missed the bus. After a few minutes we agreed to try the Restaurant King in Plat which the hotel owner (Ana) had recommended. This turned out to be a great choice. We had excellent mixed seafood and sea bass, potatoes and zucchini, all grilled over a fire at the end of the restaurant. There were not too many people in the restaurant (this was October 2nd, past the main tourist season) and the owner, who spoke good English, was very friendly.
We walked back to the hotel, full and relaxed and looking forward to a day of sightseeing in Dubrovnik.
Day 4 Dubrovnik
We had ordered breakfast at 8 a.m. and it was delivered to the rooms on trays so that we could sit out on the balcony. The day was absolutely beautiful, clear and warm. It was a wonderful treat to have this final shot of summer in early
October--it helped to make up for our missing foliage season at home in Vermont.
As we were enjoying our substantial breakfast (soft boiled eggs, bread, fruit, yogurt, meats, cheese) we noticed a beautiful windjammer ship sailing north along the coast.
Rather than dealing with driving to and parking in the city, we took a water taxi from Plat to Dubrovnik. This is more expensive than the bus but well worth the extra money for the views of the beautiful coast. There are quite a few ruins of old Tito-era hotels as well as the currently used hotels and holiday apartments. The water approach to the walled city of Dubrovnik is also very impressive.
We entered the city gates from the harbor area and walked the length of Stradun, the main street, stopping at an ATM (which still did not work for us). We were surprised at how crowded the walled city was. Despite the relatively late date, there were some big cruise ships in the harbor. Dubrovnik is a favorite port of call on Mediterranean cruises. Our friend had not been terribly enthusiastic about visiting the city again since she finds it so touristy and less interesting than other parts of the coast, but she understood why we wanted to see it, and we promised to go to some places she had not seen before.
We climbed up to the massive city walls with many other people and began a circuit, going about 3/4 of the way around (the total distance is 3 km). Dubrovnik is a stunningly beautiful city and has been restored from the damage caused during the seven month siege in 1991-2 when the Serb navy shelled the coastal areas. The views out to sea are spectacular, and we also enjoyed looking down into the residential areas. Most people with homes near the wall seem to have set up
arbors to shield themselves from prying eyes. We saw the beautiful rigged windjammer sailing past again, too.
We exited the walls at the Maritime Museum. I had hoped this would be more informative than it was but it did give some insight into the city history. Dubrovnik was an independent republic from 1358 to 1808, with an economy based on shipping and trading goods between Europe and the Middle East.
We stopped for a good late lunch at the Oliva Pizzeria with outside tables in a small alley near the church of St.Blaise. Blaise is the patron saint of the city and our friend assured us that he also helps to protect the throat. This seemed odd to us but we subsequently confirmed her story by consulting with a friend who is a former Catholic priest and used to participate in the blessing of the throats on Blaise's feast day in February.
After lunch we headed to our second museum, the rector's palace.
This was the center of government for the Dubrovnik Republic. The building was built in the 15th century with later additions. In addition to exhibits about the history of the city and building there was a photography exhibit about the 1991-2 siege.
Our next destination was the island of Lokrum near the city harbor. The island had a large Benedictine abbey and monastery in the 11th century. According to legend, Richard the Lion-heart was shipwrecked in 1192 as he was returning home from the crusades and was cast ashore on Lokrum. In 1859, Maximilian Ferdinand of the Hapsburg dynasty (later Emperor of Mexico for a brief period--before he was executed!) built a mansion with elaborate gardens on Lokrum. These gardens are no longer there but in 1959 a Botanical Garden with many exotic plants was planted on the island. There are also several beaches and a star-shaped fort built by the French in 1806 with a beautiful view of the surrounding area. We took the last boat of the day back to Dubrovnik harbor along with many people who had spent the day there at the beach.
We had missed the last water taxi back to Plat and were planning to take the bus when we realized that there was a water taxi to Cavtat where we were planning to eat dinner. As we left the harbor we realized that the windjammer we had been watching all day was moored there, so we got a close look. The ride back along the coast at sunset was beautiful.
Cavtat has a long history starting with its founding by the ancient Greeks as Epidauros and subsequent Roman incarnation as Epidaurum. Today the city is a fishing port and resort. Many tourists with yachts stay there. A charming palm-lined seaside promenade with open-air cafés and restaurants curves around the harbor. We ate some good seafood at the restaurant Cavtat. My husband tried to hurry the waiter at the end, asking for our check so that we could catch a bus to Plat. the waiter was clearly horrified that we would go off without having our complimentary liqueurs, so we settled back to enjoy those and took the next bus.
We had another good breakfast on the hotel balcony and set out from Plat with our local fruit and a few bottles of the hotel owners' homemade rakija. One of our main tasks on the road trip to Herzegovina and Croatia was to replenish our friend's supply of rakija for the coming year. Rakija is an alcoholic beverage that is produced by distillation of fermented fruit and it is a popular beverage throughout the Balkans. It seems to be almost as important as coffee, and our friend said that she needed to be able to offer visitors several different varieties. (Many of the Muslims in BiH will drink alcohol and certainly the other ethnic groups do.)
Rakija's alcohol content is normally 40%, but home-produced rakia can be stronger. The homemade drinks are usually considered better quality than the commercial brands. Common flavors are slivovica, produced from plums, kruska, produced from pear, kajsijevaca, produced from apricots and lozovaca, produced from grapes. The first two especially slivovica are common in Bosnia while lozovaca is found more in Herzegovina and Dalmatia with their milder climate. Other fruits that are used less often are peaches, apples, pears, cherry, figs, and quinces. Orahova is made with walnuts.
There were many options for sightseeing--Croatia's coast is beautiful and we were also interested in the islands. We finally decided to take a relatively short drive north to explore the Peljesac Penninsula. On the way we stopped for several views of Dubrovnik looking down from the coastal road.
The first stop on the peninsula was the town of Ston. There are two separate settlements, the main town of Ston and the smaller town of Mali Ston, founded in 1333 by the Republic of Dubrovnik. The two towns were individually fortified and a system of defensive walls was then built to connect them, effectively controlling land access onto the peninsula.
Dubrovnik was interested in Ston as a source of salt, and there are still salt works there.
Of the original 5½ km of walls, 3 km are still standing. I was interested in seeing the walls but had not realized how spectacular they are. From the village of Ston they rise up a steep hill and look like a mini-version of the Great Wall of China. There are spectacular views from the wall. After climbing the wall we wandered briefly through the town and bought another bottle of rakija from a woman at a small local market before heading to Mali Ston for lunch.
Mali Ston is known for its excellent mussels and oysters. We thoroughly enjoyed our lunch at the Bota restaurant which is in a 14th century salt warehouse. As we were eating there was a heavy downpour, but it stopped by the time we were ready to hit the road again. We wandered for a while in Mali Ston to see the other end of the long wall.
We drove all the way along the peninsula to Orebic, a small resort town on the coast, facing across a narrow sea channel to the island of Korcula. On the way we saw lots of people harvesting grapes and eventually we stopped for a tasting at the Matusko Winery in the Dingac wine region. We arrived just as a busload of tourists had left so there were different wines and cheese plates set out in the cellar--very convenient for us. We bought some of the wine and also some local olive oil.
We investigated ferries from the peninsula to the coast to save a little driving time, but the last one of the day had left, so we retraced our route to the main coastal road from Orebic. We had called to try to reserve rooms at hotels in Gradac and Neum that our friend had visited before, but both were full. Since it was almost dark, we decided to stop in Neum at another bigger hotel, but as we reached the border of BiH, the Hotel Posejdon in Neum called back to say we could stay there after all.
The coastal strip of BiH is a very short 24.5 km and Neum is the only town. Most tourists simply pass through along the coastal highway, grumbling about the border crossings. Croatia is currently building the Pelješac Bridge which will connect mainland Croatia in the north with the Pelješac peninsula, thus re-routing the Adriatic Highway away from coastal Bosnia and Herzegovina
It is my impression that most of the tourists who stay in Neum are from BiH.
We reached the Hotel Posejdon shortly after dark. It turned out that the hotel was hosting a conference and there was only one room available in the main hotel. My husband and I were lodged in a small rather odd holiday apartment across the street. This wasn't as nice as the hotel rooms but fine for our purposes. We settled in quickly and headed for dinner.
We spent some time trying to decide whether to try black (cuttlefish), red or green risotto, and the cook offered to make some of each for us to share family style. It was all very good and very reasonably priced.
Day 6--back from Croatia to Sarajevo
We had an o.k. breakfast buffet with the conference attendees at the Hotel Posejdon. During the breakfast, our friend realized that she knew/had met several people at the conference--an example of "small world" in BiH circles. We arranged to meet one of them later in the week so that we could take his ballot back to the U.S. and mail it for him.
When we settled the bill, it was higher than we had expected. Our friend had visited the hotel with a co-worker and had been urged to return and quoted a much lower price. When we saw the co-worker contact back in Sarajevo, he laughed and said that the next time she should ask him to make reservations. She had invoked his name several times but apparently this was not enough.
We continued north along the coast to Makarsala, a pleasant resort town, where we would pick up the road back to BiH. We parked near the harbor and strolled around for awhile, enjoying this last experience of summer-y weather. We got a
quick lunch of burek (light filo pastry wrapped around a meat filling) at a bakery after promising our friend we would not tell anyone in Sarajevo that we had eaten our first burek in Croatia rather than BiH.
We walked to the far side of the harbor for coffee and a better view of the town's geography. The hills rise very steeply from the coastal strip here, and it is a dramatic sight. As we looked at the imposing hills, we wondered how the road we were planning to take would get around/over them. We had decided to take a route that our friend had not tried before, via Vrgorac and Ljubuski. One of the attractions, apart from trying something new, was a recommendation for a restaurant where our friend could buy excellent rakija. I had consulted our two maps and determined this route did not show many squiggly lines, and we naively decided that the road must go through a pass somewhere.
Soon after starting out from Makarsala, the road began to climb very steeply and, looking ahead, we saw that it was was basically carved into the side of the hills with many hairpin turns. The drive was really terrifying for quite a stretch. We kept thinking the bad curves would end soon but then we would see more ahead. The views down (way down!) to the coast and the coastal road were spectacular although no one could really enjoy them except when we stopped at one of the pull-off areas. Then my husband remarked that he wondered how much was holding up these pull-outs at the edge of cliffs, and we didn't enjoy the stops so much.
Eventually we got through this part of the drive and into an area with more normal, though not exactly easy, mountain driving. We were able to see the sections of the highway which is being built from Zagreb to the coast--quite an engineering feat.
We passed back into BiH and soon reached Ljubuski and the Restaurant Most where we stopped to buy the recommended rakija. This was a beautiful spot along the river with bicycles and kayaks for rent. The restaurant looked charming, and there is an inn/motel connected to it.
The road from Ljubuski went past the pilgrimage site of Medjugorje. I had only vaguely heard of this site, but it is well known in BiH and the Catholic world and has been visited by millions of pilgrims. On June 24, 1981, six teenagers reported that they had been visited by the Virgin Mary, and she supposedly appears to them still. The area around the town/church has been built up with many facilities to accommodate these visitors.
Beyond Medjugorje we drove past an area with many vineyards, then entered Mostar and rejoined the main road to Sarajevo. We wanted to complete most of the trip in daylight so did not stop along the way. We did pick up some lamb dinners to go in Jablanica, and took these back to eat at our friend's apartment along with some of the Croatian wine.
Vttraveler on Dec 31, 10 at 9:57am
Day 7 Sarajevo
I am not making good progress with this report due to the holidays, work and other distractions. I did want to describe Day 7 so that people who visit Sarajevo may consider attending a trial as we did.
The court hearing we saw was part of a war crimes trial at the
War Crimes Chamber
Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Kraljice Jelene 88
71000 Sarajevo , Bosnia and Herzegovina
We went with our friend who knew many of the judges, interpreters and attorneys involved, but it is possible for any visitor to see this war crimes tribunal in action. The proceedings currently have simultaneous translation in English (and perhaps other languages), although this may change when the international judges leave next year and the court is staffed with local judges only. This would be unfortunate because the trials are important and widely studied and should be accessible to the international community.
There is an interesting digest about the work of the court at
After our morning in court, we had an excellent lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant, San Marino. This was what turned out to be the last warm day of the trip and we were able to eat outside in the courtyard.
My husband and I decided to go to the old town for more sightseeing while our friend went to work. We walked down to the main road and visited a big fruit and vegetable market before getting on the tram into town. In addition to the fruit and vegetable vendors, there were many stalls selling honey.
The tram system is quite easy to use although as I noted in an earlier entry, cabs are also inexpensive especially if there are more than two people riding. The trams can get very full and we were warned to watch for pick pockets.
In the old town, we got off to visit the small museum of 1914 with exhibits about the Austro-Hungarian era in Sarajevo history and especially about the assassination of Arch-Duke Ferdinand. We also visited the Old Orthodox church, built in the mid 16th century. It has an impressive iconostasis, a wall of icons.
That evening we ate at a wine bar, Noovi, right near the apartment then headed down through the park to see a movie our friend had recommended, The film, Jasmina, is the story of a woman who takes her young granddaughter to the Croatian coast during the siege of Sarajevo, then is forced to rely on an alcoholic neighbor to care for the child when she is hospitalized. A good movie--look for it on Netflix.
Our friend left for work quite early and we lounged around the apartment for several hours before heading to the airport to greet two of our friend's cousins. They had been traveling in Germany and Austria and were planning to see Sarajevo and the Dalmatian coast before returning to the U.S.
We had arranged with our friend's regular taxi driver to go to the airport and from there to the Tunnel museum which is in a nearby suburban neighborhood and relatively far from other tourist sites. The museum includes about 20 meters of the tunnel which was constructed beginning in 1993 to link the city of Sarajevo with the Bosniak-held territory beyond the airport. The Sarajevo Airport itself was a neutral area controlled by the United Nations. The tunnel allowed food and humanitarian aid to come into the city, and people to get out. The tunnel was also a source of weapons for the forces in the city. It is estimated that 20 million tons of food were brought into Sarajevo and 1 million people passed in and out of the city via this route. Our driver explained that most of the people who went out for supplies were men who had wives and children in Sarajevo. He himself made several trips. The museum includes powerful video footage of the siege and of people using the tunnel.
After leaving the Tunnel museum, we stopped briefly at a spa area in the suburb of Ilidza. This area's thermal springs were known to the Romans and there is a lovely park called Vrelo where we wandered for about half an hour. In the summer there are many outdoor restaurants and carriage rides in the park.
On the way back to town, we stopped at our friend's office and picked her up for a late lunch at the Avlija restaurant near her apartment. While her cousins (who had planned their trip before we did and had "dibs" on the apartment guest room) settled in, my husband and I moved our suitcases to the Hotel Michele where we stayed for the last three nights of our visit. This hotel (on Ivana Cankara 27) is an interesting older building in suburban neighborhood close to our friend's apartment and within easy walking distance to the old town. It has a lot of charm but some inconvenient features, notably a small hot water tank that made it difficult for us to take consecutive showers in the morning.
Our friend told us that Morgan Freeman had stayed in the hotel during the film festival last summer. Angelina Jolie was scheduled to stay there later in the fall during the filming of a movie she was directing. I believe that Jolie's stay never happened. She ran into a lot of criticism of her film, a story about a Bosniak woman who falls in love with a Serbian man who is the commander of a war camp. The Women Victims of War opposed the movie because they believed it was not sensitive to the issue of widespread rape during the war. Jolie claimed it was an apolitical love story. In November the time for shooting in BiH was cut back and Jolie herself was not scheduled to be present.
After settling in at the Hotel Michele, my husband and I walked over to the train and bus stations to check out schedules for Mostar. We had planned to go to Mostar and Blagaj on Day 9 before returning to Sarajevo for dinner, but when we looked at the public transit options, we found this would involve getting up very early in the morning to catch the train and lots of time spent in transit. We finally agreed to skip the side trip and spend more time in Sarajevo. (I think the excursion to Mostar is do-able as a day trip especially if you don't need to return to the city by early evening; it just didn't work well for us.)
We hopped a tram from the station to the old town and wandered around. Our friend and her cousins had dinner at a burek restaurant, but we were still full from lunch so we waited for a later meal at the Bambus restaurant. We all spent some time at the lively Zlatna Ribica (Goldfish) bar near the Eternal Flame.
The Goldfish bar is hard to describe--very funky decor and a wide range of beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
Re the missed trip to Blagaj: I was certainly disappointed we never made it there as most people describe it as a magical place. We had originally planned to stop there en route to Croatia but were delayed by our accident in Sarajevo. When we were setting out the morning of our Day 9, we ran into a young man who was looking for the tekija in Sarajevo and he explained that the one at Blagaj was the most wonderful spiritual place in BiH.
We plan on a day trip to Mostar - I'll probably rent a car to avoid that 7am train. Also, if there is still snow on the mountains at that time, I'm going to take a day out to ski at Jahorina or Beljasnica. I'm already watching the snow forecasts!
In addition I have Kraljeva Sujetska and Lukomir on my 'to see if possible' list. MIL mentioned Lukomir to me after reading my guidebook, but we'll need a car to get there.
After a large breakfast buffet at the hotel, my husband and I started out for a day of sightseeing. Our first stop was the nearby Svrzo House, a well-preserved Ottoman House from the 18th century, part of the Museum of Sarajevo.
Next we walked into the old part of the city to explore the 16th century Gazi Husrev-Bey's mosque. Visitors can enter the impressive domed interior at the side between prayer times. As a woman, I felt uncomfortable/conspicuous at other mosques, but this one has quite a few tourists and tour groups. The exterior structures include a fountain, tombs, the large enclosed area for cleansing before prayer and the house where the sun's position was calculated to determine the correct time for prayer (before the age of digital timekeeping), and the clock tower.
We crossed the river to see the emperor's mosque and the
Franciscan monastery then walked along the river to the National Museum. This has an impressive collection including the famous Sarajevo Haggadah (the subject of Geraldine Brooks' People of the Book) and some stecci (tombstones) in the charming courtyard/botanical garden.
In the evening we went to the Sarajevska Pivara brewery restaurant with our friend, her cousins, and a young Bosnian judge. The restaurant has a huge timbered hall and serves specialties like veal shanks and grill plates and some special beers. The brewery has a natural spring which was used for water by many Sarajevo residents during the siege, and drinking the local beer is pretty much required as thanks for this service to the city. We ended the night at a cafe specializing in flavored tobacco smoked with a nagila (hookah).
Vttraveler on Jan 8, 11 at 12:26pm
We had another big breakfast in the morning then started out to look for the Sarajevo Dervish House (Tekija) which we knew was not far from the hotel. Unfortunately the woman at the hotel desk did not have any detailed information about its location and it was not on our tourist maps. We explored the neighborhood for a while without success. It was interesting to wander a little in the residential section near the hotel. This area of the city was not heavily damaged by shells during the war, so there are more older wooden structures still standing than there are in other neighborhoods.
We arrived at our friend's apartment at 10 for an outing to the local market. This was a huge array of food stalls and a flea market. We bought dried mushrooms, dried cherries, smoked meats and other assorted foods and had some Bosnian coffee. We stopped on the way back to the apartment for some good kebab sandwiches at McDöner, part of a fast food chain with pictures of yellow scimitars mimicking the McDonald golden arches.
Our next destination was the white garrison, the ruins of an old fort at the eastern end of the city overlooking Sarajevo on one side and the river valley beyond on the other side. We took cabs up to the fort then worked our way downhill toward the old city center. We stopped on the way at the Yellow Garrison to listen to the call for prayer as it rose from many of the mosques around the city and suburbs.
As we reached the old town, we saw the actor who had starred in the film we saw earlier in the week. Our friend said both he and the woman star are often out and about in the city on Saturdays.
We took one last walk through the old section of the town and bought a few souvenirs (some beer glasses at the brewery and a hand-hammered copper coffee grinder and coffee pot) before heading back to the hotel. Our last dinner of the trip was a great meal served family style at a restaurant in the hills high above Sarajevo.
Unfortunately our trip ended after Day 10 above.