Hi everyone! I am back in the USA! We hit the 6-month mark on November 15th and I wanted to be back in time for Thanksgiving with the family. Hoch went back to South Korea to see his family quickly before returning, so he is gonna miss out on some yummy food. He asked me to save some turkey for him. 🙂 Hoch – I had the longest travel day(s) yet; Reykjavik to Seoul via Frankfurt and Doha, for 30 total hours. Feel bad for me.
I fell a little behind during the last couple of weeks and have 3 more countries left to fill you in on. Today’s post is about our time in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). I did not know much about BiH before our arrival. Its past and people are a bit complicated. I’ve asked the Hoch to explain some of it here since he is better with history than I am.
–This is the most difficult country to write about so far, especially if I am to make this blog post still readable. Skip if you don’t care. After the World War II, many ethnic groups and regions in the Balkans (north of Greece, east of Italy) were grouped together as Yugoslavia, and ruled for many years by Marshall Josip Tito who is arguably one of the most charismatic statesmen ever. He made sure to take full advantage of the Cold War by not aligning with either sides, which in turn made it the most prosperous communist regime in Europe. When he died, though, after living for so goddamn long, everything kind of went to shit. After an initially peaceful agreement to split Yugoslavia to several pieces, ethnic rivalry and fighting was everywhere. One of the new pieces, Bosnia, was comprised of three major ethnic groups – majority Bosniaks (Muslims), Serbs (Orthodox Christians), and Croats (Catholics). Bosnia was actually doing quite well, even successfully hosting the ’84 Winter Olympics and redefining itself as an attractive tourist destination. Serbians, who had the most influence in former Yugoslavia and already bitter about the breakup, began a war in 1992 led by a rather unsavory character named Slobodan Milosevic. He had some strong feelings against Bosnia and especially its Muslim population. What can be accurately described as targeted ethnic cleansing (but different than genocide according to the UN because they are a bunch of tards) commenced for almost 4 years. Eventually, due to international pressure and strong Bosnian resistance, the war ended but some horrific shit had already happened (ie. Srebrenica massacre). Today’s BiH still has those three ethnic groups but each are sort of segregated and the central government is very weak. People are so mean.
Seriously though, read Eastern Approaches by Maclean who fought alongside Tito against the Nazis during WWII. Fascinating character.
We ended up going the shuttle route between Belgrade and Sarajevo (pronounced Sarayevo, j = y) since the only bus left much later in the day. When the driver picked us up at our apartment, the van had two riders in it already. We stopped and picked up one more guy and were on our way. The driver spoke very little English and had a tendency to yell when on the phone. He seemed to be riled up about something and we couldn’t help but to wonder what he was mad about or if it was just the way he spoke. He also drove like a mad man. We took in the views from the curvy country side roads and made a couple of bathroom stops along the way. Finally, we arrived to our hostel in Sarajevo around mid-afternoon. We were pretty hungry and went straight to find a place to eat once checked in.
I’ll go ahead and say I really liked Bosnian food. They still have a lot of meat, but also incorporate more vegetables in their dishes. And even though that sour cream sauce has like a bazillion calories, I don’t care. It was delicious and really tied some of the dishes together.
We found out that we arrived on the first day of the Sarajevo Jazz Festival (10th year of the annual festival). I am not a jazz enthusiast, but we thought it would be something different and fun to do. It was fancier than we were imagining. We assumed we would be standing to watch the show, but it was in an auditorium and seats were first come first serve. The first show of the night was an older guy and several younger women (kinda weird). Some of the songs reminded me of Fiona Apple (which I liked) while others were a little wacky. The second show was even weirder. Three Brazilian guys were doing some new (to me) African influence type Jazz. I tried to follow, but it was over my head and then I tried not to fall asleep. H – The first set was Bugge Wesseltoft and his selection of hot young things which was creepy. The following set was Rob Mazurek’s Sao Paolo Underground, which indeed was fucking weird but I kind of enjoyed it. I still prefer Def Leppard.
The next morning, we were planning to join a walking tour of the city, but it was raining pretty heavily. So instead we decided to check out the Galerija 11/07/95 which is a gallery/museum dedicated to the victims of the genocide in Srebrenica. During the Bosnian War, Srebrenica was declared a UN safe area in 1993. But then it was beseiged and overtaken by Serb forces in July of 1995. Muslim Bosniak men and women were seperated; women and children were expelled from the town via several buses while men and teenage boys were interrogated for suspected war crimes. 15,000 men attempted to flee the city overnight, but many were hunted down and shot or decapitated. Remaining women were tortured and raped. The massacre lasted 4 days and over 8,000 people were killed (mostly men and teenage boys). And to top it all off, the Serb forces tried to conceal their crimes by digging up mass graves and moving the bodies to 2nd and sometimes 3rd locations using large industial bulldozers!
Today, several mass graves have been discovered and forensic experts are trying to piece together the body parts of the victims since most bodies were mangled during the reburial process. Some of the families of the victims do not wait to find all the pieces since they do not know how long it will take and go ahead and bury what body parts they do have to find some sort of closure. Other family members do not know what happened to their loved ones since their body parts haven’t been found yet (most likely more undiscovered mass graves out there) and they are still hopeful that maybe they are still alive somewhere. And several victim identities are unknown since entire families were killed and there is no surviving family member to provide a DNA sample. Pictures are not allowed inside, but as you can imagine, it was not a happy place. It was yet another somber experience and the fact that this happened in 1995 (only 21 years ago) is mind boggling. H – All done in the glory of Serbian people.
As we were leaving the gallery we noticed the temperature dropped quickly from when we first entered and rain had turned to a wintery mix (we later found out it was the first snow of the season, yay for us). It was pretty cold so we went back to our hostel to figure out what we could do with the rest of our day. We ended up exploring in spurts; we would go eat lunch and return to the hostel and then go check out a bridge or the old town and then return to the hostel to warm up. Eventually it was time for the afternoon walking tour and it was still raining, but we decided to go for it. We borrowed an umbrella from the hostel and spent close to 2 hours shivering while listening to a guide (who to be honest wasn’t very good). Sarajevo is known as the city in which the east meets the west. You can clearly see the influences of the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in different parts of the city. Also, the religious differences are very apparent just walking through the old town. One block you will see a mosque, the next a Catholic Church, and the next an Orthodox Church. It is really neat and special in my opinion and I haven’t seen any city like it. H – I was curious about this at the time and just looked it up; apparently “masjid” is the preferred term for places of worship instead of mosque. If somebody could tell me the reason for this preference, it’d be appreciated.
The story is that during the Ottoman Empire, a man would serve as the water boy and people could come ask for water at the Sebilj. During the Austro-Hungarian Empire, an Ottoman style water fountain with running water was built in its place. It is like a big, fancy water fountain with 2 spouts now.
Sarajevo is also where the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand took place in 1914, an event that which sparked WWI. H – it’s actually the most famous reason for which Sarajevo is known in most parts of the world, where they actually teach people history in schools.
After dinner we ended up at a Cheers bar. We assumed it would be super touristy and were planning to only have 1 drink and then head somewhere else, but ended up staying a lot longer than that. After our arrival, a live band started playing Bosnian music and several locals started coming in and were singing along. Bosnian music kind of reminded me of Spanish music in a way so I really enjoyed it. We kept saying one more drink and then we will go to the next place, but then we realized how busy it was so we decided to stay.
The next morning, we were up early and decided to walk around the city a bit more before catching our bus out of town. We walked up to a view point at an old fortress and I took more photos of the city since it wasn’t raining (still cloudy tho). On our way to the fortress, we passed a graveyard. We started looking at the headstones and several, if not all, of them showed passing dates in the early 90’s which meant they died during the Bosnian War. There are several other grave yards like this in the city, but to see it up close was a bit chilling.
The old bobsleigh tracks are now a tourist attraction and are painted with graffiti and used as a bike park. We did not have time to make it out there to see them, but maybe next time!
Our next stop in BiH was Mostar. Mostar is closer to the coast and we could instantly feel the difference temperature wise. It was much warmer. The centerpiece of the town is its 16th century Ottoman Bridge, Stari Most (translates to Old Bridge). There are also several mill-house restaurants and shops surrounding the bridge along the cobble stone streets. It is such a pretty old town and felt like something from a painting. I heard some tourists say it reminded them of Turkey (makes sense) which is a place I would like to visit one day and seeing Mostar makes me want to move it up higher on my list.
Mostar was also hit hard during the Bosnian War. The Old Bridge was actually destroyed and a duplicate rebuilt in 2004. The Croats and Bosniaks bombarded each other using a street as the “Front Line”. You can still see evidence of the war (i.e. bullet holes and blown out walls from the bombings) all over the city and, in particular the buildings along that front line. After visiting the old town, we walked to this street. There are still several vacant buildings with overgrowth and graffiti. An old bank stands at the intersection and looks like a parking garage. It was interesting to see the mix of renovated and untouched buildings since the war. It takes time to rebuild a war-torn city and you can see they are still in the process.
We only had one night in Mostar so we tried to make the most of it. Of course, the day we arrive it is a bit cloudy and the day we are leaving it is sunny. We’ve had bad luck weather wise lately. We still fit in quite a bit considering we only had 24 hours. Besides wandering around the city and taking in the sites, we were able to visit the following places:
- Koski Mehmed Pasina Dzamija Mosque. It is a simple and pretty mosque. You can go to the top of the minaret (something I’ve never done before) and see views of the city, including an awesome view of the bridge.
- Kajtaz House Museum. A historic house that was once the home of a 16th century Turkish judge. The family still owns it today and it is full of original artifacts. Another place that makes me want to visit Turkey even more.
We also went out to a local pub, Black Dog Pub, with a German couple from our hostel. There was a live band and a decent sized crowd. It was another enjoyable night in BiH!
I really liked BiH and think it may be one of my favorites. It is just so different than any places we’ve been to on this journey. I also feel like it deserves a longer stay then what we were able to do. Maybe one day I can make it back to see more of the countryside and the cities without snow/rain!
H – It was also one of my favorites, and a surprising one. There was so much optimism and I hope they continue to develop away from its fucked up past, because honestly I thought its people deserve it. Highly recommended and yes, it is perfectly safe.
Link to more photos:
That’s it for this post! Until the next one!