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Published: April 19th 2020
Major river in the Adriatic
From Mostar’s mountainous hills, we drove to Sarajevo where snow-covered, high mountains showed why it was host to the 1984 Winter Olympics
, just before Calgary.
The drive was captivating as we followed the Neretva River
valley through ever-more beautiful arrangements of hills. Towns were populated by three-story homes, topped with red clay tiles. Larger towns sometimes had a few high-rises, and some of the lower buildings were large enough to be multi-family places. A few un-reclaimed bombed-out stone houses were half-over-grown with grasses and bushes. Because of the war in 1992 – 1995
, almost all buildings looked new, although some must only have been restored.
We stopped at a petrol station for a break; the solitary server was over-whelmed with the sudden influx of customers. We learned later that this weekend was the equivalent of a national holiday, and many people were going to Sarajevo to celebrate. Tomas told me that Mostar and Sarajevo are holiday destinations for people from Dubrovnik, because it is only 120 km, perfect for a weekend away. Shortly after our stop, we entered a high-speed toll road (130 km/hr, up from 70 km/hr) with five or six tunnels under the mountains.
Like all large cities, Sarajevo is first evident by
small commercial buildings and facilities, and then by larger modern glass buildings, built for companies such as Microsoft, Mercedes-Benz, and similar companies with Bosnian names. (Very frustrating being in countries with languages not based on Latin, because it is almost impossible to guess what signs say.)
We met our guide, Samira, on the traffic-choked main street, across from the fully-restored Baroque City Hall and Library
. She told us about the 1984 Winter Olympics with a sad voice because the 1991 war overwhelmed all the legacy sites
. From the centre of town, we could see the Olympic cable car, which will soon reopen for local tourism.
At our request, she told us a few of her memories of the war. As a little girl, she hardly noticed the hardships that seemed normal to her. Poignantly, she related how during the siege her pregnant mother would brave the dangerous tunnel routes away from the siege to bring food back to her hungry family.
Samira led us to the place where the Serbian revolutionary, Gavrilo Princip
, shot and killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand
and his wife while they were in a diplomatic procession, thus inadvertently triggering WWI. His nationalist goal had been to end Austro-Hungarian rule. Because Princip and his cohorts (except one)
Latin Bridge 1568
Site of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand
were minors, they were sentenced not to death but to life in prison. He died only four years later of TB; suspicion was that when he committed the crime he knew he didn’t have long to live.
Our tour continued past a statue of Nikola Tesla
holding a glowing light bulb; he was a Serbo-Croatian engineer who contributed significantly to the development of AC (alternating current) devices in the late nineteenth century. We also passed the Russian style Serbian Orthodox Church, a 16 century Synagogue, and the main Cathedral where John Paul II attended mass in 1997 after the war. Near the Cathedral was one of the most moving monuments to war I have experienced - some of the mortar scars on the square have not been repaired but framed and painted red, representing the blood spilled. Standing amid the hustle bustle of the street, I could feel the proximity of the bombing to people’s daily lives.
We strolled further into the traditional (pedestrian) streets. The historic main mosque, built during the Ottoman era
, was a wide rectangular building. People who had gone in to pray had left their shoes at the large, functional and decorative 15 century fountain. Close
by was a tall clock tower that worked on lunar time, to aid in the timing of prayers.
Outside the walls of the mosque were streets full of shops selling Murano glass
lamps, trinkets, gold and silver jewelry, and dozens if not hundreds of cafés. Having a slow coffee with friends is a hallmark of life here, typically taking two hours. Without stopping to shop, we walked around the caravanserai, originally the place where caravans would stop, sell their goods, and rest from travel. On the street level were relatively traditional shops and a large café. On the next level were the hauntingly empty rooms where travelers had once stayed, now functioning as meeting rooms and historical displays.
Lunch was at Pod Lipom, a restaurant, so well-known that it served as our landmark later during our free time. As usual we started with soup (beef for me), ate our way through large mixed salads, a platter of mixed-grill (pork, chicken, sausage and veal) for each table, and a selection of generously sized, honey-soaked pastries similar in flavour to baklava.
After our leisurely lunch, everyone headed off in different directions. Several went to the War Child Museum, but I
Sadly diminishing availability
didn’t want the images and the children’s words in my head. My more frivolous pursuit was returning to a rug store inside the caravanserai. For several years I have wanted two small rugs to replace worn-out ones. Elizabeth came along, and we finally found the entrance after asking in several shops.
Unfortunately, Bosnian rugs are rare now because the knowledge and desire to make them is disappearing. The rug merchant had only Persian rugs, and at first seemed only to have large ones; however, when asked, he showed me a small stack suited to the bedside. He patiently turned each one over, and occasionally I asked him to set one aside. From a group of about five, I chose the two I preferred. The rugs were made in Iran, all with floral motifs, using subdued shades of red, blue, beige and green. Having checked previously with Manka about bargaining, I asked for his best price. He replied that since I was buying two, I could have them for 200 Bosnian Marks ($150), instead of 120 Marks each. Happy with my purchase, Elizabeth and I crossed over to a large café for cups of tea.
Wandering back towards the
group’s meeting place, we stepped into one shop with marvellous wall hangings, paintings and garden sculptures. The clerk was quite happy to chat with us about his beautiful artworks, even though he knew we were not buying.
With a minor amount of trouble, we found Pod Lipom again, and the whole group walked together on the same streets back to City Hall to get on the buses back to Mostar. We were almost silent in the mellowness of a full day well spent.
At the hotel we had our dinner: fish soup (light tomato vegetable base), lots of green salad (Bibb lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, finely grated white cabbage), whole trout, and apple strudel, accompanied by red wine.
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