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Published: August 7th 2007
The mountainous scenery guides us to our first stop, Mostar. We met a New Zealand girl, Emma, along the way who was traveling alone so joined us for a while. We had a young girl waiting for us at the bus station who took us to where we were to stay. She spoke very good English so I chatted with her and found that she grew up in Mostar, moved to Norway during the war then returned to her home that she no longer recognised. I didn't really know what to expect with Bosnia & Herzegovina. I figured there would be a little bit of damage left over from the war but not to the extent we saw in Mostar.
When we arrived at the building we rounded the corner and up a couple of steps to the front door that had a few bullet holes through it. We got our stuff squared away and headed for the old town. The bridge across the river is the most recognisable symbol of Mostar and perhaps of even the whole of the country. On November 9 1993 it was destroyed by the Croats after standing for nearly 500 years. It was finally
rebuilt in 2004 and people can now walk across it once again. We took a short stroll through the old town before heading back along the street that was the old front line. Practically ever second or third building was either riddled with bullet holes or totally demolished. The extent of destruction was quite overwhelming, but locals feel there is a lot that has been done to rebuild. One building in particular caught our attention. It looked like an old hotel that was still standing but every window was smashed, it was riddled with bullet holes and some major load bearing walls and pillars were heavily damaged. There was a small coffee shop across the street, so we sat, had a beer and just gazed at the amazing sight.
Our next stop was Sarajevo. The name alone conjures up images of war and destruction but there is way more to the city and to the whole country than just that. The first time Sarajevo was on the world stage was in on June 28 1914 when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated sparking WWI. The second time was in 1984 when Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics. Most recently the siege
on the city by the Serbs is the thing that people seem to remember most and its a shame. It is a fascinating mixture of east and west, 4 major religions and new rebuilt buildings among bullet holes, construction sites and rubble.
The first night in the city saw us joined by another girl who was from Melbourne. The first full day we reluctantly took a tour (as we are not fans of) out to the Sarajevo tunnel. We were shown a video about the siege and were explained information by our guide about the situation. We were also taken to a few key spots overlooking the city which provided some great views. While on our way to the Tunnel, the driver stopped, hopped out of the vehicle and entered a small building. We were wondering what he was doing. Sonny explained that the driver is a video game fanatic and went to buy a video game. We looked at the building which was the only one in the area and thought "Hmmm maybe not".
We were away again but were halted by a UN roadblock, so we had to back right up the long narrow track we
just came down and tried again. Sonny looked back and said to us "The UN have found an unexploded bomb so we have to take another path" We let out a half hearted laugh
"Oh he is kidding.. Isn't he??" One of the girls said nervously
Sonny thought it best to ease the tension with the truth. "Yes yes of course I'm joking"
We continued on our new path. Our speed was lowered to a crawl as we passed a heap of UN vehicles and a gaggle of UN soldiers in bomb suits.
"Oh they have definitely found an unexploded bomb there" Sonny pointed out.
We laughed sarcastically as if to say "Ha you wont get us with that one again"
Sonny turned to us all and said with a cold face "No, really"
We shut up real quick. I looked out the windows and saw children playing and farmers working in the fields.
The tour was actually really good. Sonny was perhaps the best guide I have had on any tour ever and he was totally informative. The thing is, when you go on a tour, usually you have some expert or historian showing you things. The difference
with Sonny is that he was there, he lived throughout the whole siege on Sarajevo. The only time he came close to saying anything about his experiences was when he explained about he used to tell anecdotes about the time during the siege but it got too hard to relive everyday so he stopped telling them. We of course, probed no further.
We also saw a few other things in town. We went to the place were Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated which sounded like a good idea but even though we had it clearly marked on the map, we just couldn't find it. We asked a local and were directed to some scaffolding which had the plaque behind it. Apparently the plaque gets stolen often so we were lucky to see it. We also wandered up to the Holiday Inn where hundreds of Journalists hunkered down during the siege. After watching the film "Welcome To Sarajevo" which was filmed in the city shortly after the siege had ended, it gave a interesting perspective to how hard it was for everyone to survive.
Rohan, Emma and I thought we might just jump on a random tram and see
where it takes us. After 40 minutes we got off somewhere near the Airport end of the city. The buildings were no more destroyed than in the centre. We walked into a local bar where chances of finding anyone speaking English was about a likely as winning the lottery. After a few games of pool on perhaps the worst tables on the face of the earth, we stumbled back to the centre. We finished off the afternoon browsing the goods in the old town souk, sipping on Bosnian coffee, watching the sky turn red with the sunset and listening to the haunting sounds of the call to prayer. It was about that moment I claimed Sarajevo as one of my favourite cities in Europe.
That night we kicked back with a few beers and a few games of cards. We were joined by a few people like a Finnish girl who befriended us the first night and also Sonny. We started having a chat with him and started buying rounds of beers. After 3 or 4 rounds we were all pretty trolleyed and Sonny started telling us like it is.
"When I found out yesterday I had to do
Life goes on
Chess in the shadow of war. Mostar
a tour for you guys, I was pissed off" He claimed in a drunken Bosnian accent.
"But actually you guys were the most interested and sensitive groups I've had so it wasn't so bad" He paused as if he had to remember what he just said. He soon continued
"To be honest most of the people who go on the tour do it just because its the tourist thing to do and the worst thing is they ask the most stupid questions. I even had one guy who was arguing with me about what actually happened during the siege. I finally had to shut him up with a "Listen I was there and you weren't""
I got a feeling that he hated seeing so many people coming to Sarajevo with no respect for the place and acting like it was Bali or something and anything goes. As the hours of banter and drinking went on, we found we had a lot in common with the man and I guess made ourselves a new friend.
Sarajevo is an interesting city. There is no doubt its troubled by its past and even its present but I feel good things coming for
Dont go in the bombed buildings!
It goes without saying but this is why. Mostar
Sarajevo and Bosnia. The Finnish girl who we met up with a few times was actually living there temporarily and doing a photography project. She took pictures of people and got the story behind the faces. On the surface it seems Sarajevo is a city of many races and religions all living in harmony but as she found out through her studies and we found out talking to Sonny, its all skating on thin ice. No one talks to anyone from another "group" of people and the only reason they get along is because they have to. There is deep resentment between most people in the city and throughout the country. I guess it's hard for travelers like us to really get a sense of how things really are. However after all this, everyone we met was great, by far the nicest people we have met on the trip so far.
Were heading off to Serbia next so it will be interesting to get their side of the story of the siege.
Until then PEACE CAMO
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