Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Bosnia & Herzegovina

Our itinerary for Bosnia was to spend two nights in Sarajevo and one night in Mostar before heading on to Montenegro. I was worried about loading a bunch of time on at the beginning of the trip, and in retrospect I think it worked out very well. As I was saying in Serbia, the views along the way were stunning. You could see for miles and imagined that you were actually on the set of Behind Enemy Lines. Ok enough about the bus ride. We arrived in Sarajevo in the late afternoon, and we were in the boondocks. Bosnia is divided into Croat and Serb areas and this split goes right through the middle of the capital, Sarajevo. Since the bus was coming from Serbia, it stopped at the Serbian bus staion in the middle of nowhere. After being approached by several sketchy cabbies, we decided public transportation was the best option. This is a view of downtown Sarajevo.

So all nine of us hopped on the trolleybus. This was after a half hour search for a) the station, and b) an ATM to pay for the bus. Me, Andrew, and Kenric bought tickets outside while the six girls bought their tickets on the bus. The bus driver validated the girls' tickets, but kenric and Andrew didn't put theirs into the machines for validation. This is the same procedure as Budapest, except that we all have month long passes here. It would have been fine except that these two controllers got on the bus and asked for all our tickets. Instead of acknowledging that we were obviously tourists carrying huge packs and just into town not knowing how the system works, the guys called the cops and threatened to arrest us if we didn't cooperate. Well after lots of yelling and hand motioning, they communicated they wanted 14 euro for each Andrew and Kenric. We were like fine, whatever and moved on. Eventually we made it to our hostel which was amazing. We stayed right behind this Cafe Elvis up that little alley way.

It was literally in the middle of downtown and across the street from the main bazaar and central fountain. It was 10 euro per night and all nine of us had a huge room to ourselves with a full kitchen and bathroom - though the shower sucked. The introduction was funny becaue we walked in the door and the guy was like oh - the nine Americans right - without us even saying anything. We paid for our housing in Euros every night during the whole trip, even though only Montenegro officially takes Euro. Watch out American dollar, the Euro is taking over.

Friday night we had a delicious meal of varous sausages, veal, and chicken. As you can see by this picture, we were pretty whiped out. We made it an early bedtime.

Saturday was the perfect day for a lots of sight seeing. We walked into the hostel lobby area to use the internet and low and behold they had free breakfast. Our luck would continue throughout the whole trip. After breakfast we saw a few sights and then joined the city tour offered by the hostel. I'm so glad we did this, there's no way we would have seen as much on our own.

The first stop of the tour was the Tunnel musuem. During the War for Independence from Serbia, Sarajevo was under seige by Serbian troops for three years. The only link to the outside world was through the airport. The UN negotiated with Serbia to allow the airport to open and this cut off Sarajevo's last link to the West because the UN occupied the area neutrally according to Serbia's wishes. The Croats living in Sarajevo then designed a very long tunnel underneath the airport that connected the city with the rest of Croat controlled territory to the West. The tunnel started under a random house. Most of it has collapsed, but a small stretch remains for viewing.

The siege of the city is a big deal and is visible everywhere. Bosnia is a huge mix of ethnicities with Mulims (Bosniaks) Croats, and Serbs all living within close proximity to each other. This all ended during the war when for the most part the Serbs sided with Serbia while the Croats and Muslims either fought against Serbia or against each other.

Ok that said, the next stop on the tour was a view from afar where Serbian snipers picked off people in the city. In the picture you can see the yellow Holiday Inn where all the foreign journalists stayed during the war. An avenue that runs from there to the left out to the airport was nicknamed "sniper's alley" because of the spot where we were standing. There was one more stop on the tour for a good view of the city, and then we were on our own.

I had some errands left to take care of before we could relax for the day. The next day we were headed to Mostar to stay with a sweet old lady named Aisa Dervouscivic. This lady is the grandma of a friend of mine at Middlebury. Being the responsible organizer I was, I had lost her address and phone number during our travels. So through some negotation at our hostel front desk (the one guy who spoke English had left) I got through to Dado's aunt in the New York who gave me the info. More on that surreal experience later.

We spent the rest of the day walking around Sarajevo, which the pictures pretty well capture. There are mosques everywhere and hearing the Muslims being called to prayer was quite unreal. After Laura and I dined on peanut butter and local fruit, we went out for a drink at this Pub called Guinness. Thinking this would be a good spot for the old Irish beer, we went in. This is the conversation that ensued:

Kenric: Do you have Guiness?
Waiter: No (completely straight faced)
Kenric: That's kind of ironic (smiling)
Watier: No response
Kenric: Ahhh....I guess I'll just get whatever you have
Waiter: OK

That was pretty bizarre. This was after dinner where Meredith bought a Persian rug from a guy in the courtyard of a building. The place was really interesting. The guy had all these huge rugs that sold for like $1000s. Meredith got a much smaller rug at a reasnable price. Also, Meredith acquired a mascot for our trip named Chuckles. Chuckles is/was a horse balloon that made several appearances throughout the trip. The next morning Meredith and Maia were headed to Dubrovnik in Croatia while the rest of us were headed to Mostar for a night. Chuckles was to spend the night with them.
Easter Sunday, Kenric and I got up at 7 am to see the city before we departed for Mostar. This was a theme of the trip, we got up early everyday, 7 am might have been my latest sleep time. Kenric and I saw the Holiday Inn up close and also the US Embassy where we just about got shot for trying to take a picture. Then we found this graveyard, and the picture illustrates the divide between Muslims and Croats (Muslim graves on the right, Croat graves on the left). Easter Sunday was a bit odd because Sunday is not important for Jews or Muslims who make up a large part of Sarajevo. So most shops were open and people were walking around on Easter Sunday - much different than in Hungary.

We doubled back to our hostel, picked up our stuff and headed for the bus station. Two things I forgot to mention are the reenactment of Franz Ferdinan's death that caused WWI, and coffee at a coffee shop along Sarajevo's main river.

Just as we got to the bus staion, it started pouring outside, but luckily we were under a quasi weather proof area. The bus ride to Mostar from Sarajevo was again breathtaking. This would be the only 2 hrs of the whole trip when the weather wasn't beautiful. Hills with lakes, valleys, small villages, farms, goats, and sheep pretty well sums it up. We arrived in Mostar which also was incredibly divided by the war. The town is famous becuase of a bridge the Turks built over 500 years ago and everyone knew about it and the old town. The bridge survived for centuries until Croat troops blew it up in 1994 during the war in Bosnia. It has since been rebuilt using the exact same procedures as were originally followed.

We got into town and had to find the hostel for the three girls and then the apartment for the rest of us (4). We found the hostel ok which wasn't so much a hostel as it was a someone's home with an extra bedroom. We dropped off the girls and then headed to our place. It was hard to find, and we ended up asking this drug addict for directions. If he hadn't been so high, he might have been helpful, but he was incredibly gone off.

Our host was absolutly amazing. We arrived and she had fried chicken, pasta, salad, and fries waiting for us. Then Dado's cousin, Selma, showed us around the town. She also took us out to coffee and paid for our drinks. She was quite the character. She loved to bet on soccer and we watched a match while at the coffee house and she explained exactly what was going on. She also was dating one of the famous divers from the bridge and his name was "Rambo." Selma told us she had a date, so we met up with the other three girls and had a nice dinner and a few drinks. Made it back to our place safely and then woke up before dawn to the sound of the Imam calling the faithful to prayer.
We said good bye to our hosts, not before calling Dado in Tokyo and thanking him for letting us stay with his grandma. We caught the 7 am bus to Dubrovnik in Croatia. Again amazing views, though this time while in Croatia, the bus travelled along the Adriatic Coast so that view was far better than the rest. Very tall mountains descended suddenly into the blinking blue sea with the red roofs of centuries old settlements dotting the landscape. Truly a sight to behold.
I do have to say that Bosnians were probalby my favorite group of people during the trip. Maybe its just because we met some on familiar terms, but we were treated well by everyone. Even the people at our hostel in Sarajevo were great, and everyone we met along the way was incredibly helpful. The country has recovered quite well form its war only 12 years ago.

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