Dark past of the Balkans in Sarajevo

Today we were going for a bit of history to learn more about what happened in Bosnia in the 90s. We were headed to the tunnel museum, found near the airport right on the outskirts of Sarajevo. We took a number 3 tram all the way to the end of line, a place called Ilidza. Buying our tickets on the tram was easy and it was fun getting on the rickety vehicles. 

We arrived in Ilidza and knew we had to get a bus, but couldn’t see any timetables, so we asked at a kiosk and they were happy to give us bus stop number and times. We jumped on the bus and were taken round the suburbs till we got to a stop by a bridge, getting off we turned left after crossing over the bridge and it was a 5 minute walk down the street. It’s quite a way out if Sarajevo but worth the visit if you’re interested in learning more about what happened. 

It was around £5 to get in and is literally based in the house where the tunnel was built. The family still live there and help with tours of the museum! It’s thanks to them preserving the small bit of tunnel that’s left that there’s even a museum here. 

Showing just how surrounded Sarajevo was….just a few years after hosting the Winter olympics. The museum had different rooms with a lot of items from the siege including weaponry and examples of aid packages sent. I remember doing operation christmas child in school when I was young…filling shoeboxes with toys, sweets etc to send to Bosnia. 

The tunnel was the only way to get in and out of the city and to bring supplies in. NATO had control of the airport to bring in some aid but their agreement with the Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA) forces prevented any Bosnians from leaving. The YPA forces spent 1,425 days shelling the city, it’s incredible there’s even anything left. 

We walked through reading about the horrors for the siege. It’s so sad that people had been living alongside each other for hundreds of years, only for something like this to happen. It’s also a shame that as humans we don’t learn from our history. 

We found the tunnel entrance, it once went for 800m, filled with noxious gas and hard to breathe in, people wore gas masks. Low lighting and often part flooded. It was only the necessity of smuggling that got people to go through.  

It’s hard to imagine just how bad the tunnel would have been as we walked through. Though the lady who had just walked through left us a little gaseous gift to help us imagine. 

Done with the museum we decided to walk back to the station as it was such a lovely day. After almost being savaged by a dog that we soon realised was on a chain we made it safely to the station and hopped onto the tram, but not before the lady at the kiosk tried her best to rip us off! 

We made it back to the centre and decided to walk along the river to find the spot where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, the match that lit the flames of WW1. 

There was a museum you could go into but we had other plans to walk up a hill overlooking Sarajevo. We stopped and grabbed some Cevapi first, our top food of the Balkans so far! At the top of this hill you could look out across the Dinaric alps that surround the city from a fortress called Bijela Tabija. Along the way you can also see the yellow fortress. 

To climb up to the two fortress ruins you get to pigeon square and then basically head uphill along a pedestrian street. Through a graveyard for people who had died in the war and presto! We were at the first viewpoint. 

It’s a small ruined tower that lots of people were sat on having picnics and enjoying the views from up high. Nearby is a restaurant that looks out over the city too.  

We carried on walking upwards, past the huge mansion like building and into little steep streets. Continuing to just head upwards we finally got to a tall stone gateway, going right we were at the fortress.  We looked out away from Sarajevo sat on a wall with a steep slope below us. 

We walked over to the main tower that’s left and climbed through one of the windows out to a ledge with the city beneath us. It was ace, and I love cities where you can get a birds-eye view of the place. I had a little vertigo up there at one point but the views soon distracted me. 

The actual fortress is pretty cool too, built in the 1500s to protect the old settlement found here, this side of the city was the historical entrance. 

After all the walking we stopped at a restaurant near to the fortress and got an ice cold beer. We planned the rest of the day, we were off to Belgrade at 6am, a 7 hour bus journey away. So we had to get to the bus station to buy tickets as the next bus was hours later. 

We said goodbye to the panoramic view and descended back down through the little streets, down the steps of the graveyard and back to pigeon square. We had really wanted to try a cake we’d seen other people eating, it consisted of a thin layer of sponge topped with a soft light meringue. Sampita is the name, and it is good! Sarah and I shared a piece and it was sugary and delicious, though I think it would have been too sickly to eat a whole one. 

We jumped the tram to the bus station and got our tickets. We walked back from the station trying to go a different way to see more of Sarajevo. 

Stopping off at a bar we had a look at what to do in Belgrade and the sort of food we should go for. Checking that there wasn’t anything else major to do in Sarajevo. 

We got some food and sandwiches to stock up for the bus journey and ended up in the same restaurant from the night before. Tonight we were trying lamb, cooked in traditional Bosnian style under a metal or ceramic lid with hot coals and ash heaped on top.  We got a salad and some more klepe to go with it. 

It was all really good again. The lamb and rice was delicious and cooked to perfection, we just wanted more of it. It was a bit more expensive than the meat platters etc but definitely worth a try. Bellies full it was time to try and get some sleep as we were up at 4:45am! 

East meets West in Sarajevo

Mostar was gorgeous, but it was time to move on to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia. So we said goodbye to our wonderful host Lena, packed our bags and walked over to the bus station. The bus was actually there on time! So we jumped on and sat to the left. I had hoped to take the train as we had read that it was one of the most breath-taking journeys in the world, but it was due to re-open in Spring 2017 and no one in Mostar seemed to think it was running. 

So bus it was! In truth the bus follows the train track just on the opposite side, so we still got our incredible scenery. Following a river for miles and miles with mountains all around us. 
It was perfection, it’s supposed to take around 3 hours and we were well on schedule when we stopped 40 minutes or so from Sarajevo to drop some passengers off. Next thing we know the bus driver is telling us the bus has broken down and we have to wait for a replacement! 

We sat having a drink and waiting when a local bus appeared, loads of people jumped on so we went to follow before our bus driver warned us it was going to the very outskirts of Sarajevo and we’d be better to wait. Luckily the next bus turned up 10 minutes later and we were back on our way! We were stopped for about an hour so were a bit behind schedule now. It’s all part of the adventure though! 

We soon arrived at Sarajevo bus station and walked over to the train station 2 mins away, checked the map and walked straight down to the river noticing the huge building to our left, the most modern looking one we had seen on our trip.  I had checked where the hotel was located, on the other side of the old part of the city to us. We followed the river along counting a the bridges and seeing some nice architecture. The river was definitely browner than the last few we had seen! 

We could’ve taken a tram easily but the weather was nice so we walked for around 30/40 minutes to the hotel Toplik, it wss a bit hidden away with no obvious signs but we entered and were greeted by a young girl who showed us up a flight of stairs to a lovely room, it was around £22 a night and seemed like a bargain and quite upmarket after the last few simple rooms. 

As usual we didn’t linger and went out to explore. We were now on the other side of the river so we crossed back over and entered Bascarsija, the old Turkish quarter.  The stark contrast of Sarajevo is quite incredible, with mosques, shisha and kebabs next to huge churches, patisseries and Viennese coffee shops. It really is East meets West, one street exemplified this by splitting itself in half, with one half being tall grand European buildings and the other one story Turkish bazaar like buildings.  

It’s a cool city with a nice vibe, lots of people sat around chatting, eating cake and drinking coffee. After grabbing some sandwiches and demolishing them we had to join in so we found a little coffee and cake place and sat down where I had this bad boy. 

It was soooo good and Sarah’s cake was really nice too. We sat and people watched for a while then walked down towards the ‘European’ side. 

The views between the buildings were ace, with what looked like scenes from the Swiss alps in the background.  Really beautiful but you could also see how the Yugoslav forces surrounded the City in the 90s and bombarded it from up high.  

There were shell marks and bullet holes all over many of the buildings, a reminder that it really wasn’t so long ago that people were living in fear and thousands were killed. I think if anything it made us appreciate the beauty even more. We saw the sacred heart cathedral, built towards the end of the 1800s it’s the largest cathedral in Bosnia.

There was the multicultural man, a statue placed around the world in places with great multiculturalism, even nicer that there were some market stalls nearby and men playing giant chess. We continued walking past a giant watch on a building and past an eternal flame. 

The flame is a memorial to the victims of the 2nd world war. Across from here we saw a park and decided to walk up through it, there were a few gravestones and a small graveyard in the centre, along with hundreds of dandelions which looked very pretty in the sunlight. 

The weather was starting to turn so we did a loop, spotting the church from further down a street and, as the clouds rolled in we decided to stop for a beer and plan the next days events. We stopped in a bar next to an old red London bus with a phone box as the door! It was pretty funny seeing famous British landmarks in Bosnia. Even if it was all for an Irish pub. 

Finishing our beer and research we headed back to the hotel to change as it was colder and starting to rain. We wandered through an old market hall and past some old ruins on the way. 

These turned out to be from the 1500s when the Ottomans ruled the land. We changed in the hotel and chilled out for a bit after all the walking we’d done. Trying to find somewhere to eat, in the end we gave up and just walked down into the old quarter, seeing the museum beautifully lit up in the darkening sky. 

We found a street with a few restaurants on and went for the one with the smokiest chimney.  We ordered a few dishes to share, more Cevapi, Klepe-a ravioli like dish covered in garlic butter and a big local salad. It was amazing, especially the klepe. 

The sour cream on top was literally the best idea ever. Suitably full we did try to order traditional Bosnian dessert but they had run out! So we went for a few beers instead, including to a pirate ship themed pub! It wasn’t so busy around the old quarter but there are definitely the pubs to have a goid night out. 

Mostar, Monasteries and Meat. 

Our lovely host had freshly made Turkish coffee waiting for us this morning, so we sat with her and chatted for a while. It was interesting to hear her speak about the war, she was 7 when it all started and it must have been terrifying. 

Today we were off out to the countryside, for 25E each ger husband would drive us around to a couple of places and wait for us while we adventured. He wouldn’t be ready till midday so we decided to go see the old town in the morning sun. We set off though this time we crossed over to the other side of the river. 

We walked along some dusty streets and then turned down a little street with vendors. Meandering back towards the bridge from a different direction, we crossed over little mini bridges with water cascading down towards the river. 

It’s a spectacular little place to walk around, not too big but lots to see and really, really, pretty.  

We found ourselves by the old bridge and walked down some steps to the river to see the bridge from below. 

There were a few local guys who we knew might jump into the river from the bridge but we overheard that they can stay there for hours waiting for money to perform the daredevil stunt. 

We chilled out there before brunch called, so we walked back in the direction of the hotel, enjoying the daytime views from the bridge and picking up some Burek – the Balkan specialty filo pastry which Bosnians say must have meat inside. It was so good and Sarah couldn’t even wait to sit down before tucking in. 

Our taxi driver was ready once we had finished eating so off we went, seeing a bit more of the city and then off into the countryside. Our first stop was Blagaj monastery, a dervish house built almost 600 years ago. It’s near the village of the same name, our driver paid the entrance fee and we agreed to meet him back in the car park in around an hour.  

The monastery is situated at the base of a cliff where the source of a river emerges. It’s such a peaceful place and you could see why the dervish would have built their sanctuary here. We had to cover up to go inside so a lady at the entrance covered Sarah with a shawl and wrapped another around us both to cover our knees. Then we walked round, there’s not loads to see but there are some interesting bits and great views out over the river source. 

Once we had seen everything we stood out on stone steps watching the clear water flow from the cavern and soaked up the atmosphere. 

We left the grounds and crossed over the river between a load of restaurants and scrambled along a small path leading us up to the opposite bank of the river. From here you could really appreciate the beauty of the place, birds flew in and out of nests on the cliff and there were subtle flashes of silver where the sun met fish scales in the crystal clear waters. The reflections were incredible and we sat for a while enjoying it all. 

Once we were done our driver picked us up and we sped off through the countryside again. With panoramic views and rolling greenery. The weather was great and gave everything an orange tinged glow. 

Our next stop was Kravice waterfalls near the border with Croatia. I’d like to say I kmew how long it took us but I napped extensively on the way. Anyway we passed more amazing scenery before we arrived at a kiosk, our driver had a quick chat with the guy working and we were off. We got our first glimpses of the waterfalls as we wound down into a valley and we started getting more and more excited. 

Parking up we walked down to the water’s edge and our eyes lit up at the majesty of the falls. The roar of the water tumbling down into the river was huge and the colours of the water were insane. 

We paddled in to the freezing water to get closer to the falls, a few people were even swimming! We sat and let our legs slip into the clear blue/green water and watched little fish swim about our toes. 

From pictures I had seen there was a wooden walkway going across to the other side but it must have been dismantled or winter or taken down.  However there was a lovely Croatian guy who rowed us and two others across in his boat for £2.50 return! 

It was fun getting to the other side and being up close to the powerful waterfalls and seeing a different side of them.

The waterfalls are incredible and definitely a must see if you go to Bosnia. We finished off the trip with an obligatory beer looking out over the falls. 

Our driver took us back and I managed to stay awake, tapping along to some bad bosnian beats on the radio. The journey was great, we ended up seeing Mostar from above as we descended on windy roads down steep mountains. 

We arrived back and headed straight to tge old town, keen to make the most of the sun. Grabbing some tasty ice cream we went back down to below the bridge and sat watching other tourists taking selfies and group photos. Randomly there were some Chinese guys with full filming equipment but instead of filming the bridge they were following some ginger cats about, using treats and toys to entice them. 

We decided a pick me up was needed so we got some strong Turkish coffee and sat looking out over the river figuring out if the coffee sludge at the bottom was meant to be drunk or not. 

By this point we were starving so after a wander and a quick foursquare search we ended up in Irma Tima and it was the best decision ever.  We ordered the meat platter for two and I swear it should’ve been for 4!! It was all delicious with more Cevapi, chicken, burgers, burger meat stuffed with cheese and slightly spiced sausages. Bread included and salad/roast vegetables. 

It even came with the usual dips we came to expect in the Balkans.  The host was crazy and so nice, even giving us free beers. The night went on and we stopped off for another beer on the way home. Bosnians are so friendly and we later found out it’s something they pride themselves on. 

Marinas and Mostar, Bosnia.

Today we planned to explore a bit more of Dubrovnik outside of the walls, we had heard about a little beach hidden away and decided to head in that direction. So saying goodbye to our lovely Croatian host we walked down the steps for the last time and went out through the northern gate. 

From here we just kept following the coast on the main roads, branching left when needed. Finally we saw a path heading downwards along the side of a hotel. We followed this down and after nearly going into the hotel we were greeted by steps winding down the cliffside to a little beach completely surrounded by cliffs on either side. 

There wasn’t a soul to be seen as we sat on an old concrete jetty and marveled at the amount of marine life we could see. The sun was out again and the water glistened as we dumped our bags and walked around to the beach, climbing over rocks and even finding some hermit crabs! 

The beach was the usual stony type with another jetty sticking out into the sea. We wandered back and sat enjoying the morning warmth and relaxed atmosphere. Fish swam below us as our legs dangled down and we tried to spot new ones, there were thousands of tiny baby fish up near the surface, probably sheltering in the cove before hitting the big open seas. 

We spent a good amount of time here but we eventually had to go. So we went back up to the main road and turned left towards the marina. Our thinking was to be close to the bus station ready for our 4pm to Bosnia. So we wandered the length of the marina, stopping to marvel again at the amount of marine life we could see. Discuss which of the boats we would buy if we had the money, and stopped off for a coffee sat looking out over the marina. 

We were starting to get hungry so we decided to go get our tickets for the bus and then get some food. It was easy getting the tickets at the station they cost around 12€ and there were a few places to eat across the road. 

We settled on one with an extremely friendly waitress with bright pink lipstick and a very revealing outfit.  The food was pretty good for the price and we sat in the sun for a while after finishing. 

The station has a huge supermarket right next to it so with the last of our Croatian money we got drinks and snacks for the journey. We still had an hour to wait so we went down to the waterfront again and sat enjoying the last of the sunshine as we’d be on a bus until it went dark from this point on. 

The bus arrived late, something we knew to expect and we set off. This bus journey was one of the most amazing journeys either of us have been on. We followed the coast for a couple of hours, with the sun sending it’s rays down over the sea and islands popping up all over the place. Going round corners we’d find sleepy little fishing villages and tiny hidden beaches.

It was incredibly beautiful and I don’t think pictures can do it justice.  We went into Bosnia for about 15 minutes then back into Croatia as we passed through Bosnia’s only coastline. Then we started to head inland and finally entered Bosnia for real. The amazing scenery continued as we found ourselves looking out over vast plains surrounded by huge mountains, going over and alongside lazy looking rivers and minimal structures. 

The sun was going down at this point so we had lovely sunset colours lighting up our bus. 

Our bus suddenly slammed the brakes on and we just saw a police officer waving something at the bus. It pulled over and the drivers looked nervous as the police came over and started speaking to them. We weren’t sure what happened but a couple of passengers started a heated conversation with a bosnian policeman who had got on a few miles before.

We sat watching and wondering what was going on when the drivers got back on and we continued our journey. I’d love to know what had happened but we were too scared to ask someone.  We soon arrived in Mostar, and it was a lot different to what I was expecting. I didn’t realise it was a huge city! The bus station is about 15 minutes walk from the old town and luckily our hotel was only 2 minutes from the station. 

We arrived at hostel lena, greeted by an old bosnian lady who quickly called Lena her daughter in law and made us coffee which she promptly shovelled two huge spoonfuls of sugar each. 

Lena arrived and we chatted for a while, she was extremely friendly and welcoming. Sarah had a bit of a dodgy eye that wouldn’t stop watering and she gave us eye drops and a chamomile tea bag assuring us the combination of the two would work (Which it did). Lena also said she could arrange the trip we wanted to do with her husband as he was a taxi driver. 

We were shown to our room and told how to get to the old town and the bridge that Mostar is famous for! We had a quick change and walked down a long street filled with local bars, cafes, bakeries etc. They were re-paving the street while we were there so we stepped carefully. We passed a mosque on the way, a reminder that we were now in a country with a 50% muslim population. 

You could see the beautiful minarets peaking out from the rooftops all over the place as we walked along the main street. Here it was full of old wooden turkish looking stalls lining the path, a throwback to the Ottoman empire that ruled Bosnia for 500 years. We continued until we came to a stunning view of Stari Most, the old bridge that was bombed by the Croatians in the 90s war. It had lasted from the 16th century until that fateful day but was rebuilt after the war with some of the original stones and bricks. 

We walked over the bridge which had a very polished floor, it was actually quite slippery! Navigating our way down we found a restaurant right in front of us that did a national Bosnian plate for 2. We went for it and sat outside with a fountain trickling in the background and lots of foliage…it was very pretty. 

We ordered local beer while we waited for the food, when it arrived we couldn’t believe it was only for 2 people! It was so cheap too. Like £7 each, the Cevapi was delicious along with the bread we had with it. There were selections of peppers, onion and vine leaves stuffed with mincemeat, slow cooked lamb, potatoes and Bosnian cookies – these tasted like dense falafel. 

It was almost too good as we had cream cheese and Ajvar, a red pepper based dip to go with it. We were absolutely stuffed and had to wait at least 20 minutes before we ordered baklava, the syrup soaked Turkish pastry filled with chopped nuts. 

The piece was huge and Sarah only just managed to finish it. We hauled ourselves back to the hostel and passed out…happy and content, ready for an adventure out to the countryside the next day.