“You will love Bosnia, you’ll see, it’s great,” my friends were always telling me, coming back from there very enthusiastic. I always had some kind of prejudice about Bosnia in the sense – I know it’s cool and all, but it cannot be that special, can it? I knew Bosnia is still suffering the consequences of the war even today and I kinda imagined that due to that there is some melancholy in the atmosphere, the feeling ob being given in to fate. Well let me tell you my story of exploring and experiencing Bosnia.
With Tomaz Gorec, who is also the owner of a company for which we made the trip to Bosnia, we headed to explore the country in the evening, heading towards town Pale, where we were also based for the time of our stay there. I was sleeping on the way, but got a first lovely surprise when we stopped for dinner. In all of my travel stories you will alway listen about my culinary experiences, since I am a total foodie and I adore good food, especially while traveling, where I can discover new dishes and tastes. Here i chose a vegetable mess soup with veal meat, which was absolutely fantastic and at that moment I realized Bosnia and I will be good friends. While being attended by the super nice and talkative waiter it hit me that saying about Bosnian hospitality are not just a myth at all.
Pale is a cute, quite well developed town in the valley beneath Jahorina ski resort, which grows pretty quickly – there are many construction sites there, they have universities and plenty of possibilities for good tourism, which are for now unfortunately not well used, but hopefully this will develop in the near future. When I was sitting in the coffee shops there I saw that almost all people know each other here and are being very friendly towards one another. Tomaz knows a wonderful man of mature years here, named Miro, who used to be the president of Bosnian Ski Federation and is well known and respected by local people. Wherever we came, he introduced us to the restaurant, bar & hotel owners – pretty soon a lot of people knew us there already and it made us feel at home. I named Miro “capo di banda”, since he takes care of everything and has the situation in Pale “under control 🙂 It is a very pleasant and home-like felling, which is why Pale are rated pretty high on my Bosnian scale (no offense to places in Bosnia, you are all still great).
Mister Miro gave us the pleasure of his company every day and as a real Bosnian gentleman he treated me like a lady – opening the door for me, pulling out the chairs, pouring my drinks, showering me with compliments. I was kidding that after being treated like this I will never again like a Slovene guy from my country again 🙂 Not to mention he brought me flowers and brought me an early birthday gift on the day we left – a pillow so I can sleep in the car and “Gorki list” which is a local herb spirit, which we drank every night together for health. He gave me and Tomaz a sports uniform with a starting number from the Olympics in 1984, which surprised and completely thrilled me – it’s a unique gift, you cannot just get everywhere. People like Miro made my travel to Bosnia unique and unforgettable.
Pale and it’s surroundings pride itself with beautiful nature and wonderful people, who are willing to help you every step of the way, invite you into their home, make you a coffee. They are incredible, I felt like they cannot wait to run into a tourist to be able to stop them and make their day. When you appear on their doorstep nobody thinks like “what does she want”, but find it completely normal and accept you invitingly. With this hospitable characteristic Bosnian people charmed me completely.
First two days my co-worker and I dedicated to exploring of Jahorina, which I’ve never seen in the winter yet, but it fascinated me in its green “suit”, because the nature there is jut fascinating. I was surprised by the hotels and apartments there, I went to see them all and realized they are super nice and on a high level of quality, by way lower prices we are used to elsewhere in Europe. Not to mention all the owners are happy people with constant smiles on their faces, gladly showing their accommodations and giving you the impression the would do anything for the well-being of their guests. On the ski slopes they have they have the modern 6-seat ski lifts, so they really try to keep up with technology.
On the top of Jahorina, a few miles further from the ski centre, there are the ruins of an army-radar still left from the war. It is an incredible feeling to walk among a bunch of crushed walls, watch the objects on the floor, left since the time and imagine how terrible it must have been right here, on this exact spot, where today everything is so peaceful and quiet. In this area there are still a lot of land mines left, so walking outside of the paths can be a dangerous experience – a few years ago a Slovene parachutist landed on the hills of Jahorina exactly on a land mine and survived the accident only by a lucky coincidence, but he lost both legs. It is an indescribable experience tough, being there, walking paths and thinking what can happen if you get carried too far away from the road – adrenaline is working its course here. Under the surface of the bombed bunkers there are still undergrounds tunnels, which served as an escape route for the soldiers – since the ruins are abandoned, there is no electricity or light in there’d when you go down towards the dark and cold with only a cellphone light, you can feel the goose bumps all over the spine, but experiences like these are usually the most memorable ones from the travels.
When you drive the road from Jahorina to Sarajevo there is a great viewpoint of the capital city on the terrace of a ruined building. It is quite sad to see potentially great touristic spots in such bad condition, but on the other hand, the exact fact that there is nobody there and the place is almost the same for the last 20 years, gives it a special, mystical hint. After that Tomaž and I went to see the abandoned bobsleigh track from the time of the Olympics in 1984, which took place in Sarajevo and its vicinity. What a project it is to make a track like this and what a sad and at the same time magnificent view it is to see it decay. Here I see English-speaking tourists for the first time, which makes me realize, Bosnia is getting more and more interesting for tourists all around the world.
We end up the day in Sarajevo on Baščaršija, a place with a vibrant throb, full of tourists from all over the world, who come here to get a taste of Bosnian culinary specialties. Let me not even mention the heavenly burek (meat pie made with phyllo pastry and cottage cheese) and zeljanica (same as burek but instead of meat filled with spinach) which Tomaž and I had for dinner – when in Baščaršija one simply cannot diet. For the desert we got a real Bosnian coffee and delicious baklava. Ah, for me as a great food-lover, this was a real heaven on Earth.
Next day we headed to explore the nearby stream springs and caves in which the Mokranjska Miljacka river springs. I cannot stop marveling over the amount of natural beauty Bosnia and Herzegovina has to offer, I never imagined it so green and full of forests and hills. The path towards the cave we wanted to see was a real challenge, since the road was mostly macadam, leading through a sparsely populated area, with no signposts pointing you towards the right direction – therefore we had to stop a few times to ask the local people for the right way. For me this is a great way to do it, because you get to meet a bunch of new, interesting people. On the way to this cave we stopped at a homestead where they were roasting a piglet on the outside fire and when the owner saw us he carefully came towards us, walking without shoes but in socks in the middle of the worst summer heat, being followed by first his dog and a few moments later even by his horse – a very amusing sight. We found the cave on the second try, when being pointed in the right direction by an older mister, who is the owner of the property through which you get to the cave. Kindly, as everyone there, he opened the door of the fence around the property and offered us to park the car on his courtyard and pointed us towards the cave. It is incredible what a temperature difference there was in front of the cave entrance – outside the temperature was heavy over 30 degrees Celsius, but when you came closer to the entrance it felt like the area is filled with air conditioning – being all lightly dressed it got pretty chilly.
Unfortunately we found out the entrance into the cave is sealed and went back to the property owner. He invited us for coffee and a glass of home-made Rakija – I adore getting to know people at their homes, listening to their stories and tasting their local culinary delights. He explained to us the cave is closed due to being full of delicate eco-organisms, which cannot be fund in any other place in the world and due to the cave being impassable without special equipment since it’s almost fully flooded by the river and therefore appropriate only for experienced speleologists. When we were sitting in front of the homestead I was looking around thinking how incredibly this place reminds me of my childhood, on life 20 years ago, it felt like time really did stop here a little. Nobody is in panic or in stressful rush, they live day by day and do not know the problems of today’s globalization. Life there is not perfect, they live a very simple, modest life, most of the food they produce themselves at the garden, because they cannot afford to but all the food in groceries or the stores are too far away, to be able to drive there every time they would need something. But still I asked myself – is this really a less quality life than ours? Is living in peace and coexistence with nature, away from all the modern problems, really that retrogressive? Is having time for yourself and your friends, time for a friendly handshake, a smile and a kind word, really such a bad thing? The more and more it hit me, that these people in spite of poverty and difficult trials they had to face, might still live a fuller and more meaningful life.
In the evening we headed towards the Careve code spring, where we again had to ask local people for the way. We ran into a mister, who offered us to drive towards the spring with us and show us the way. The mister named Slavko, was just on the way to his mother’s who lives in the vicinity of the spring, so he knew the way well. He told us a little bit about life in Pale and about the times he was serving in the army in the company of Slovene soldiers, who were his best friends. When we dropped him of, he invited us for coffee to his place if we will ever be in the area again. So we planned our next day with the thought of coming back to visit him. First we went to see the spring of Miljacka river which is a gorgeous small stream, which rambles through the river-bed full of moss-grown rocks, which creates a truly fairytale-like idyll. We saw some locals cooling down in the stream and also found a picnic spot, available for anybody for free upon prior announcement.
After that we headed towards the house of mister Slavko, who was sincerely happy to see us, probably he was not sure if he can expect us to come back. He and his wife welcomed us warmly and served us a strong Bosnian coffee and dark red home-made juice, which was so good, I could not praise it enough. They told me it was made on that same day – the lady cooked it from wild black cherries, growing on the property of Slavko’s mother and immediately invited us to go there to taste them. Of course Tomaz and I are always up for any kind of adventure so we gladly agreed. Property of Slavko’s mom is huge and it includes a big meadow intended for shepherding of the sheep, big garden and a whole bunch of fruit trees. Wild cherries were so delicious and were leaving marks on our lips and tongues due to the strong blueberry-like color. We were enjoying the sweet bites and chatted about Salvko’s mom, about the high quality of the fruits and vegetables they have here, since everything grows in the intact nature, no poisonous pesticides being used. Slavic showed me countless blossoms of thyme and peppermint on the meadow, which grew completely organically – I immediately think of how my mom, who loves doing home-made cosmetics, would enjoy here with me, picking up healthy, natural herbs and then process them into organic rejuvenating creams and teas. This trip “into the wild cherries” was a wonderful experience and when we head home, Slavko gives us both a strong, since, loving hug, which makes my eyes tear when heading towards the car – from an honest joy for taking time to come here to visit and showing interest for his way of life. Later we coincidentally met Slavko’s relative while looking for a path, who told us Slavko lost his daughter when she was six, cause she fell into a pot with boiling water. It hurst my heart to think what kind of trials some people are put through in life. And still, they are full of will to live and full of joy for life.
In the evening we headed for dinner in Pale, where I had (I know, how is this even possible) “mučkalica” (a dish made of roasted pepper and tomatoes with slices of white pork meat wish kayak on top) for the first time and once again fell in love with Bosnian food – it was so good! Not to mention smoked “vešalica” (pork chop) and chevapcici and their mess soups – all in all, let me not overreact with my food praising – the food is wonderful on every step and I think everyone can find something to like.
We also visited Višegrad, famous by the Drina Bridge, built by Mehmed Pasha Sokolovich, janissary taken by Turks to serve them, who later grew up into an influential man. The Nobel awarded book by Ivo Andrić “The Bridge on the Drina”is talking about this story. The bridge expanding over Drina river is an amazing sight. As well the Andrićgrad or Kamengrad, architectural project on the peninsula on the river, dedicated to Ivo Andrić and financed by famous serbian movie director Emir Kusturica, who also financed Drvengrad project in Serbia right next to Bosnian border. We went to see that as well and I have to say Drvengrad is a really cute settlement, built completely from the woods, looking like a fairytale land full of sweet little wooden houses, where guest can also overnight. When we were on the Serbian side we also took a museum train ride through “Šarganska osmica”, railroad going in a shape of number 8, where also the name comes from and it used to go from Užice-Višegrad-Sarajevo. Railroad leads through high areas and offers beautiful view of the nearby places and it presumes to be one of the most beautiful railroads. To not forget to mention the road we took from Pale to Višegrad – we were driving the macadam road, which in the time before war also used to be a railroad. The road is gorgeous, cause it goes next to the river all the time, surrounded by beautiful nature and leads through several tunnels, where the train used to drive through, which are so tight two cars cannot meet inside – a real adventurous experience.
Last day we used for visiting Mostar, which is a wonderful city, but I decided I want to see it again sometime in the fall or spring, when it’s less crowded and hot, since when we were there it was full of tourists and with 43 degrees Celsius the hottest town in Europe. The city prides itself with amazing Mediterranean-influenced architecture and offers a great view on the nearby buildings and river Neretva. The streets are full of sellers, who make the streets much more interesting with their vibrant products. After Mostar we head towards a magical Muslim town, stretching under a magnificent fortress, called Počitelj, which impressed me the most from the visual aspect. From the top of the fortress there is gorgeous view of the picturesque mosque, neat stone houses and beautiful Neretva. On the streets ladies were besides souvenirs selling small rolls of refreshing local fruits, which really came in handy in such terribly hight temperatures. A really beautiful town, worth seeing. We stopped also in Međugorje and then headed towards Kravica waterfalls, which surprised us pleasantly, since they were much bigger than we expected and full of people, looking for a way to cool down on those hot days.
On the way home we shortly stopped in Jajce, a town that has a beautiful waterfall and is an important historical point, since it was a scene of the AVNOJ session, where the country of Yugoslavia was being formed. We also went to see Drvar, a place where Tito was hiding in bunker during the war. It is fascinating to walk to the paths that once were a centre of historical drama and when you know you are standing in the place where one only a few chosen people were allowed to stand.
Well in short – I did expect I will like Bosnia and Herzegovina at the beginning of my trip, but I have never even dreamed it will win me over so much. I am full of great and unforgettable impressions and I am already planning my next trip there.