Bosnia and Herzegovina

Next up on the Italian and my summer travels was a stop in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This was part of our trip to Croatia where we drove a car along the Dalmatian coast, stopping in Zadar, Split, Dubrovnik and others before continuing on into Bosnia, where we saw the cities of Mostar and Sarajevo. Bosnia was an incredibly pleasant surprise – an interesting mesh of eastern and western culture, very agreeable prices, and best of all….food to die for!! It was also a great way to learn about history – the country has played a pivotal role in some of the most significant periods of time stemming all the way back to World War I and up to the Balkan conflict in the 90’s.

Počitelj

Our first stop on the drive from Dubrovnik was the small and quaint hillside town of Počitelj, located just south of Mostar and on our drive from Croatia. Located on the left bank of the river Neretva, the fortified town is thought to have been built by Bosnia’s King Stjepan Tvrtko I in 1383. Walking around the town you can see remnants from both the medieval and Ottoman periods. The town was conquered by the Ottomans in about 1471 and remained within the Ottoman Empire until 1878. The town lost significance during the Austro-Hungarian rule from 1878, which has been credited as a reason it has retained its original structures. What I enjoyed about the town was walking up narrow, winding pathways and weaving around old houses to reach the top of an old citadel and fortress, where there was a great view of the river Neretva and surrounding countryside. The old mosques added to the picturesque setting.

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Mostar

Our first overnight stop in Bosnia was Mostar. The city was once one of the most ethnically diverse cities in Bosnia and saw some of the heaviest fighting during the Balkan conflict following the breakup of Yugoslavia. It was the most heavily bombed of any city during the war. Today much of it has been restored and it is now a popular riverside tourist destination.

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The old bridge (Stari Most) in Mostar, crossing the Neretva River in the center of the town. Originally built by the Ottomans in 1556, it was destroyed by bombing in November 1993 during the Croat–Bosniak War. It was rebuilt using some of the originally pieces that had fallen into the river during the bombing, and reopened in 2004. It is considered a standout piece of Islamic architecture in the Balkans and connects the two sides of the old town where winding roads feature bazaars selling good that could almost be straight out of Istanbul.

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Walking around the street and shopping in the bazaars

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börek

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In Mostar we first discovered börek, which is was pretty much one of the greatest things ever. It is essentially baked pastries made of a flaky phyllo dough filled with cheese, minced meat, or vegetables. So. Good. It’s popular in a lot of former Ottoman countries, and in Bosnia it came rolled up and presented almost sausage-like. We had at least one every day we were in Bosnia, no joke. Even once for breakfast!

Blagaj 

Blagaj was about a 20 minute drive outside of Mostar, and we stopped there on our way to Sarajevo. The town is situated at the source of the Buna river, which is located inside a cave of a mountain. The Buna river flows west for about 9 km and joins the Neretva near the village of Buna. The Blagaj Tekke (a Sufi monastery) is the main sight to see. It is an old historic structure located right at the mouth of the cave from which the Buna river flows. Trout are farmed in the river, and there are a number of great restaurants along the riverbank that serve fresh trout.

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The Sufi Monastery

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Trout at Restoran Vrelo, fished fresh from the river Buna and eaten at an an outdoor cafe along the water with a view of the Sufi monastery.

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Fresh-fished trout ceviche

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Bosnian desserts – Hurmasica (cookies soaked in sugar water) and Tufahija (walnut-stuffed apples stewed in water with sugar)

Sarajevo

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The drive to Sarajevo – stopping and swimming in the river. It was such a beautiful deep green blue. We drove up into the mountains to get from Mostar to Sarajevo, passing a number of lakes and mountain villages. Saw quite a few lambs skewered over a pit served at restaurants on the side of the road. There were also tons of fruit and vegetable stands selling fresh produce, all apparently organic which seems to be a feat in itself these days. The figs were outstanding.

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In front of the Latin Bridge, a historic Ottoman bridge over the River Miljacka. On one side of the bridge is the site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by Gavrilo Princip in 1914, which is often cited as the catalyst for World War I.  

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Winding streets with Baazars

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Main square in Sarajevo

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Miljacka River and the Academy of Fine Arts

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The Latin Bridge and the Cathedral of Jesus’ Heart (Sarajevo Cathedral). The Cathedral is the largest cathedral in Bosnia and Herzegovina, located on the main pedestrian street.

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Prayer rugs at the Gazi Husrev-bey Mosque in the old town of Sarajevo, just near the Cathedral

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Interior of the National and University Library, Sarajevo. It was commissioned during the Austro-Hungarian period, but the designer reportedly got inspiration from Egypt in order to pay respect to the eastern influences of the city.

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Sarajevo men playing chess

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Cemetary

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Building with bullet holes // Nargile and Bosnian coffee, served with rahatlokum (Turkish delight)

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Bosnian coffee and Turkish delight // Nargile and local beer from Mostar

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We found the best baklava place in Sarajevo’s Old Town, selling lots of different varieties of walnut, pistachio, hazelnut, and others. Very syrupy and delish.

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Nutella Baklava – can this get any better?!

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Ćevapi – this was a highlight of the Bosnia trip. It was so good we had it for dinner two nights in a row! It is a type of kebab/grilled minced meat formed into finger-sized sausages and served with a doughy flatbread, chopped raw onions, and crucially – kajmak, a salted cheese substance similar to clotted cream. It’s very cheap – I think we spent around GBP 5 pounds for dinner for two people, including drinks! We enjoyed the dish at both Zeljo 1 and 2, neighbouring restaurants that are named after the local professional soccer team and have long communal tables. Enjoy it with a salty yogurt drink called kefir (simliar to Ayran in Turkey).

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We drove up to the mountains surrounding Sarajevo where we could look down into the city and see all the colorful houses dotting the hillside. The hills are where the Bosnian Serb army deployed during the conflict in the 1990’s to enforce the siege of Sarajevo.

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View from the hills

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We went to the site of the 1984 Winter Olympics, much of which still carries the image of Vucko, the official Olympics mascot.

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The abandoned Olympic track

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Overall, this trip to Bosnia was an amazing experience. While we only stayed in two cities (Mostar and Sarajevo), we got to do some great side trips to smaller towns, get a feel for the old Ottoman architecture, witness an incredible mix of eastern and western culture, and visualize first hand the affect the Balkan conflict had on some of the country’s major cities.

Driving throughout Bosnia was also a treat – the countryside was beautiful and hilly and the various lakes and rivers were often of the most gorgeous deep aqua-green colour. And, best of all, we got to experience some classic Bosnian foods, favorites being the börek, cevapi and baklava. I would do another trip back just for another bite of cevapi – it was really THAT good!

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