October 4 – 8 (Sarajevo) and October 8 – 11 (Mostar)
Kyra: I included this article in my Yugoslavia post, but it’s worth sharing here as well. It’s written by a journalist who, like many others during the war, stayed in Sarajevo to cover the events as they unfolded. The article was written only a few years ago as she revisits a not-so-changed Sarajevo.
Ben: Franz Ferdinand was shot in Sarajevo (the catalyst for World War I), but we heard so many different versions of how it happened, I had to look up the real story.
How we got there
Ben: We took a shuttle from Belgrade to Sarajevo. We had heard mixed reviews about this certain shuttle company but it was one of our only options so we decided to go for it. The experience was perfectly fine and we were transported with a few very nice Bosnian ladies that told us what to do in the area and about living in California after receiving asylum during the late 90’s.
Kyra: From Sarajevo to Mostar we took a local bus. Per usual, I got scolded by the bus driver (why can’t I learn to be a good passenger?) for bringing my backpack on the bus. Other than that, it was a pretty uneventful ride.
Where we stayed
Ben: Our place in Sarajevo was located right between the old and new parts of town which gave a good perspective when walking back and forth during our days in Sarajevo. Our host Vedad was accommodating and our first Airbnb “super host” along the way. He certainly earned the title – eager to greet us when we arrived, fixed the internet and left us a chocolate bar, even met up with us just before we departed to make sure everything had been good. And the apartment was large, with a full kitchen/living room, bathroom, two bedrooms, and entryway. This was certainly one of the better experiences we’ve had with Airbnb. Kyra and I were most excited about the fact that most of the coolest places were easily walkable.
Ben: Burek is a pastry filled with meat and served with a yoghurt sauce on the side. The burek can also be filled with spinach, potatoes, pretty much whatever you like, but anything other than meat makes it Pite instead of Burek. It’s unique to the area and is usually served as a breakfast item. Kyra and I stopped by one of the best burek places in Sarajevo for a quick breakfast on her birthday and although it wasn’t what we were used to for breakfast, it was filling, warm, and delicious. Flaky pastry + great meat + yoghurt = quite appetizing.
Kyra: We met up with a really kind Spanish woman working at the embassy in Sarajevo for lunch one day at a restaurant called Dveri. I’m pretty sure it’s mostly enjoyed by tourists, which is normally something we avoid, but our food was truly amazing. Elena, our new-found friend, tours Europe on her beloved motorbike and was eager to give us tips for our upcoming stay in Madrid.
Ben: Zlatna Ribica was a small, crowded, well-decorated bar that Kyra and I stopped by for a quick drink. We had heard it’s an experience to drink here and were not disappointed. As we squeezed into a spot near the middle of the bar, Kyra spotted some leftover cookies on the table nearby. Untouched cookies while on a budget are easily identified, however I told Kyra maybe its best we leave them untouched. She asked our neighbors what they thought and they disagreed with me, pushing us to grab the cookies. It was worth it. The cookies were great and we had an excellent conversation with Patrick and Stef – they’re Canadians who were meeting up to travel in the area for a bit. They gave us great advice on what to see and where to eat and then we ran into them the next day, walking to the Tunnel of Hope. Well, we were walking, they had a car, so of course they drove us around for a bit. Yet another serendipitous encounter that paid off for all parties.
Local View and Lessons Learned
Kyra: Two things are immediately apparent as you arrive in Sarajevo and Mostar: a war has happened here, recently, and the area is multi-ethnic.
Ben: During the Bosnian War, The Tunnel of Hope was constructed to send food, supplies, and aid to Sarajevo and allow people to escape. It was built directly underneath the airport (which was UN controlled) with the tunnel’s exit in a volunteer’s basement. The tunnel was a lifeline for the people of Sarajevo as their city was under siege. It allowed them to receive food, water, and additional aid as there was no other route out of the city. It’s estimated that 400,000 Bosnians fled Sarajevo via this route. For those who stayed in the city during the siege, we heard that they adapted to a life under siege – running everywhere, always being on guard, and staying in the kitchen as it was the most protected and allowed for food preparation and washing. It’s hard to imagine life in a city under siege, but walking part of the tunnel really allows a new perspective.
Kyra: Smoking, is even more noticeable in Southeastern Europe than Western Europe. When you go out at night in Europe, your clothes will inevitably need to be washed the next day. In Southeastern Europe, you are permanently inhaling smoke, night and day, inside and outside.
Kyra: Passport control on the road is consistently slow. Everyone knows and expects it. If you cross a border on a bus, expect to add at least 45 minutes.
Dobar dan – “Hello” (like many a Balkan country)
Molim – “Please”
(YEH-dahn), (dvah), (tree) – “1, 2, 3”
Kyra: In both Sarajevo and Mostar we were approached by a number of people begging whose limbs were casualties of the war. BiH is the first country we’ve visited yet where children actively participated in begging by way of cleaning car windows or singings on the streets. The kids are cute but the lingering poverty and trauma from the war is absolutely tragic.
Kyra: Ben really made me feel special on my birthday. He found my favorite flowers at the Markale Market and astoundingly remembered when I mentioned, in passing, that I missed grilled cheese and tomato soup a few days prior.
Kyra: We ended the evening at a restaurant, which had no menu. Instead, you told the chef what you wanted and he prepared it for you. We ended up with a crazy surf and turf platter and good Bosnian wine.
The Glass Bank
Kyra: Mostar, has scars from the Bosnian War, which include a number of abandoned buildings. One building in the center of town is an unspoken hipster tourist attraction by day and the scene of drug addiction by night. To enter, you must scale a wall near the back with the aid of a strategically placed boulder. Inside, the place is filled with trash, which thins out the higher you climb.
Ben: We saw the building below as we arrived in Mostar and wondered what it had been and why it was still standing. Almost as quickly as we wondered, Teo answered that it had been a large bank that shut down many years ago. During the war, it had been used by snipers it the tallest building in the area. Two cheerfully concluded that we should feel free to walk to the top and gave us tips on scaling the 6ft perimeter wall. It’s rare that we get to be within this proximity of an artifact so Kyra and I grabbed a bite to eat and made this our first stop in Mostar. Climbing the tower, there is garbage, glass, and mold everywhere. Two explained that the building hadn’t been torn down because the three owners didn’t want to spend the money to do so. Seeing as there were at least 6 other people climbing as we were, it seemed the government wasn’t too concerned either. After climbing to the top (through concrete stairs with no guardrails and a fire escape ladder) we were rewarded with an amazing view of Mostar:
It was quite moving to see the holes in the apartment buildings nearby still fresh from bullets. The war seems so close and yet the people in Bosnia seem to have long forgotten it. If anything, I was constantly reminded by the scenes from Mostar and the surrounding towns.
Kyra: In Mostar, we took a day tour with our Airbnb host, Teo.
Ben: This was one of my favorite days. We spent the day driving near Mostar and visiting some old castles, waterfalls, and Medjugore. Our tour guide Teo was also our Airbnb host. Kyra and I agreed that this was the way to run an Airbnb: rent your place out and then charge your guests for tours of where they’re staying. That said, this was no scam, Teo was an awesome tour guide, bringing us to some of the coolest places around Mostar, always full of information about the surrounding areas, and giving us space when we needed it. He also brought a different perspective to Medjugore – growing up I had thought of it as a small village that Catholics would make a pilgrimage to every so often. I was quite wrong. Two said it had grown every year, hosting millions of people from around the globe. Pictured below is the outdoor mass crowd the night we were there (and this is still about 2 miles from where the young kids claim to have seen Mary!) To end the day, Teo treated Kyra and I to “Jumbo” Pizza and beer. We were very pleased.
Kyra: Movies are cheap which means we’ve gotten to enjoy a number of films. In Bosnia & Herzegovina we watched two of my favorite films of the trip: Dope and A Most Wanted Man.
Kyra: Each day in Mostar, townspeople dive off the bridge in Stari Grad (old town) if they can collect enough money from eager tourists. The bridge was destroyed in 1993, during the war, but an exact replica was rebuilt and is currently in use. Still, no one has taken the blame for destroying the original bridge.
Ben: Drinking coffee for hours at a cafe (I think Caribou would charge you if you began to do this)