The Way It Used To Be - Chapter Nineteen: Travnik


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August 8th 2005
Published: May 28th 2008
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Mountain StreamMountain StreamMountain Stream

Keeps the beer cold in summer...
Planning to leave Sarajevo in search of a Bosnia less plagued by tourists and bullet holes, I was eager to veer off the tourist-crushed Sarajevo-Mostar-Dubrovnik path. I ran into the same smug tour guide form two days prior and finally posed him those questions that timidity had put a stop to. He was very forthcoming and honest and I admit now to liking him a lot more. Of course, this has a lot to do with our agreeing with each other on our interpretation of recent events in Bosnia and the way they transpired. So, for no other reason than his fervent conviction that I would most enjoy it, I have taken his suggestion and have come to Travnik, a two-and-a-half hour ride northwest of Sarajevo. This was a good move: I received some accurate information from a well-informed local.

Nevertheless, I arrived in Travnik confused and initially regretful. Its bus station, downtown, shops, small cafés, banks, and post office are all along a single side street. I found a very simple room at the Oniks, and then retraced my steps once or twice from one end of town to the other, only to find an ordinary Bosnian community, no
Castle RuinsCastle RuinsCastle Ruins

But don't wander off the footpath. Mines are prevalent...
more, no less. Scores of men occupy outside tables in cafés by mid morning, an obvious indication that like every town through which I have passed in Bosnia, unemployment plagues the economy. Yet, as the men lounge over an espresso and arrange the settings on their cell phones, it is rather curious that Travnik is a busy community not because of the men, rather the women. It is they who apparently do all the work here. Women occupy the shops. They collect groceries and run errands with children in tow. I hardy believe Bosnian men put in any real effort at housekeeping, either. Without women, this town would fall apart.
OK, I said, I am by myself. There are no foreign tourists. How wonderful. I’ll take this town for what it is worth, and be out of here early in the morning. But, why that enthusiastic recommendation? What am I doing in this very ordinary town? What was so special about Travnik anyway?
Upon arrival, the main “highway” splits Travnik in half. What you see because of the layout of the town is to the left: the Novi Grad, or New Town. Yet, because of the lofty mountains off to
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Quiet in the blazing afternoon...
the right, the much more tantalizing and well-hidden Stari Grad remains out of sight. Only by accident and sheer boredom of my mundane surroundings did I cross over into what is a delightful treat for anyone interested in a true taste of a Bosnian town still unfamiliar with the roar of tour coaches.

Once among the hilly roads and gardens of the Stari Grad, it is impossible to go back down into modernity. Teenage boys cruise around in scooters trying to impress groups of girls gossiping on benches. Men split logs with axes and chainsaws, as they prepare for another gripping winter. This unassuming yet ancient part of Travnik boasts a skyline of minarets, windy lanes, and awesome panoramas from the fortress, which overlooks the town and valley below. Goats graze on hillsides that lead up to treeless peaks. Mountains streams of frigid water bound for the Adriatic rush over rocks and snake around tree trunks. Its current is so swift that restaurants set tables alongside the stone embankments as to provide natural air conditioning from the intense afternoon temperatures. A far cry from Sarajevo, Travnik is a humble delight of a town that, for the most part, I
A More Rural SarajevoA More Rural SarajevoA More Rural Sarajevo

Calls to prayer resonate five times a day...
have to myself.

At a café nestled among gardens and mosques well above the noise of the New Town, a waiter plucks a bottle of Sarajevsko Pivo out of the frigid river. This ensures that the beer arrives at my table chilled. Unfortunately, it is one of the few options available in Bosnia. I long for the days back in Slovakia where they know what beer really is. This tasteless, malodorous, and colorless liquid reminds me of the mass-produced bottled swill from any given brewery in Milwaukee. Perhaps my next destination will have a more enlightened approached to the heavenly mix of hops, barley, and water.

Tourism is not unknown in Travnik, however. Yet, much to my amusement, the visitors here are not foreign, rather Bosnian. It is they who come here with their digital cameras, fanny packs, and sunglasses to enjoy time away from home. For the first time in ages, Bosnians can be tourists and discover their own country without the threat of war or economic upheaval, if only for a day or the weekend. They pack the restaurants, pose in front of fountains with family, purchase cheap souvenirs, and flood the ice cream
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Bosnians are now allowed to be tourists, too
shops. It almost looks as if they have been left out of the equation and want a piece of the action, too. It may not be the French Riviera, but it is a start.

In the Muslim world, there are five daily calls to prayer. Whaling chants from various mosques resonate throughout town and each episode is impossible to ignore. Most Muslims in Bosnia are observant of Islam, but let’s not call them devout. The calls to prayer are part of the landscape, yet no one arranges their daily schedule around them. This is unlike in Tunisia when a tour guide literally dropped to his knees in the middle of an explanation, faced, and bowed toward Mecca. Here, many of the men are too involved in their coffee or morning beer to be at the mosque on time.
I have become rather familiar with this routine because for some mysterious reason, my rooms have been situated with windows right in front, and at the same height of, a minaret’s largest and oversized megaphone. Of course, the megaphone is pointed directly right at my window. If you have never heard the calls to prayer, I can tell you
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Firewood for winter...
that the melodic chants can be charming. They can be soothing, too.
But not a five o’clock in the morning when the first call from the megaphone flips you out of bed.
Not a practicing Muslim myself, I have adopted a scheme by which the five calls can be integrated into my daily schedule for traveling throughout Bosnia. I like to look at this as how I adapt to cultures other than my own. It goes like this:

First Call - 4:55 a.m.

Pick yourself off the floor and climb back into bed after having been launched airborne by the cruel sound waves.

Second Call - 10:00 a.m.

It is time to consider touring the town and accomplishing something productive before it gets too hot. Stop for one more espresso.

Third Call - 1:00 p.m.

My favorite, lunchtime. More importantly, respect Bosnian customs and take a nap for the afternoon. Remember, it is very important to observe other cultures!

Fourth Call - 4:45 p.m.

Wake up from nap. Since the megaphone is aimed at my window, I see little choice here.

Fifth Call - 9:30 p.m.

Go for stroll and join townsfolk in evening stroll throughout town. This is just like an evening passegiata in Italy. Scout out a pub that will stay open until the wee hours.


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