Balkan Adventure 2014 - Bosnia & Herzegovina

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September 1st 2014
Published: October 4th 2014
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The next day was a long journey day to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Along the way, which I didn't know until Phil and Brit told me, we passed Srebenica, a small Bosnian town betrayed during the war and the site of a massive geonocide af the hands of the Serbian army. We asked stop there, but we were denied citing a pressing schedule. In Sarajevo, we were greeted at our Pension for 3 nights, and later we greeted by our local Sarajevo guide Muhamed. Muhamed was a very warm and welcoming guide who was very enthusiastic about his city. As a boy of 10 when the 3 and a half year seige of Sarajevo started, he vividly recounted what it was like to live in hiding from snipers who would shoot and wound people as they crossed the street, then proceeded to shoot, point blank, those who helped the wounded. Over 11 000 people died during the seige, and a local modern artist commemerated this recently with a display in central Sarajevo of red chairs, representing each and every person that died, including small chairs filled with teddy bears and toys for the children who also were innocently killed. The photo of that was intense. After our walking tour, we arrived at our restaurant near the Karavanserai. As Sarajevo had a big Ottoman influence, Sarajevo old town is like a little Istanbul - with little streets, a covered bazzar and an impressive mosque in the centre of the city. The next day was an early start (6am) to catch a local train to Mostar, a small town inthe Herzegovina region(the capital of Herzegovina in fact). The train ride was spectacular itself. Beautiful scenery of green mountains flanked by a massive blue-green lake. Alan, out if all of us, was most impressed by this and proceeded to wave a every station master along the way (as Phil said tongue-in-cheek 'my son'). The trip was made memorable by a joke that Alan shared that left he and I in stitches and tears for half an hour! I think Phil and Bill were laughing more so at us rather than the joke itself! See, Alan proves age really is just a number,and this is why he is still travelling with people a quarter of his age! Really a remarkable man.

Mostar - if you look up the Balkans in google, no doubt you will see a picture of the medieval bridge (Stari Most), crossing the gorgeous blue green waters. The bridge, originally built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, was rebuilt after the Croatians bombed in 1993, was again rebuilt. It was absoltuely spectacular to see up close. We went up the mineret of an old mosque and saw the bridge from up high and got many of those classic photos. Mostar itself, a very charming little town, yes overrun by tourists, but Mostar much like Sarajevo old town, you would swear you are in Istanbul. Small narrow cobblestone streets, Turkish-inspired infeastructure and little shops selling local crafts and tourists trinkets.

We then went back via the dreaded green bus - dreaded because its a cramped minibus we spent most of the previous day travelling from Belgrade. As part of our Intrepid package, we had a cooking lesson, however we didn't get to eat what we made, instead we ate the same food prepared by the previous intrepud group which was frozen for us (and in turn what we prepared was frozen for the next group), which is an odd concept we thought and could have been better planned. The next day the group opted to go on a Sarajevo tour with Muhamed. He took us to the tunnel museum, which is dedicated to the tunnel that was built during the seige so that food, water, electricity and other supplies could be funneled through to the beseiged city. Muhamed told us of a time when we was just 10 years old, desperate to go out and play during the seige, he sneakily popped a sleeping pill in his grandma's tea and went outside to play. Nearby, a morter was fired and landed nearby and he got schrapnel in his leg. Taken to a hospital bleeding where his mum worked, she of course fainted and blamed herself. That is, until Muhamed admitted he 'drugged' grandma so that he could sneak out and play! Fortunately, that is the only (physical) war wound he got, and his story, as well as many other personal accounts on this trip, really makes it hit home how recent this war was, how lucky we are to gave been born and raised in a reatively peaceful country, and how there are so many conflicts still occuring around the world today. We also walked through a portion of the tunnel. Originally, the tunnel was 800m long, built under the international airport (which the UN siezed as neutral ground). The Serbian army knew of a tunnel being built, but the Bosnian army buily a lot of trenches so the Serbs did not not exactly where the entrances were. It was also dicey as the tunnel regularly filled with water, and with electricity lines running above, it is amazing no-one got electrocuted in the 3 years the tunnel was used. We then drove up (in the green van) up a small mountain to get spectacular views of Sarajevo. The rest of the day was ours. After a lunch of fabulous 'kavapi' we parted from the group and wandered around town. We stumbled on the permanent exhibition about Srecebica. Amongst the photographs taken during the war and the audio displays, the documentry, 'Miss Sarajevo', directed by Liam Neeson was showing, as well as the hard-hitting documenry of Srebenica the town betrayed during the war. The footage people taken to be executed, as well as footage of relatives searching and grieving for their loved ones was really heart wrentching. In the evening it as really pelting down, and after walking around town looking for the prerfect place, Bill, Phil, Alan and I found a quaint little place, with a charming waiter whom couldn't believe Alan was older than his dad so he showed his passport! A nice dinner to end a lovely stay in Bosnia & Herzegovina.


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