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Published: August 2nd 2016
Admittedly we are not the world’s quickest travelers. Like global snails we have covered a lot of ground in the last 5 years. Staying in most cities for one, two or even three months at a time has given us an opportunity to settle into a community and observe life that most visitors do not get a chance to see. Living in small apartments in normal neighborhoods affords us with the unique possibility to see everyday people living their lives outside of the view that faster travelers probably don’t get to witness. Perhaps a type of travel less about seeing famous sites and more about seeing the subtle differences that make each place unique.
Not restricted by time, we have moved around the globe at a glacial pace that has allowed us a good amount of time to relax while at the same time seeing a little more than most might have a chance to.
We enjoyed splitting our month in Romania between two cities. As public transportation was a little more challenging to use, we had a chance to move outward from our base and see a wider variety of the country than if
we had of just stayed in one city. It worked well for us and we wanted to continue to visit smaller cities for a shorter amount of time for a while.
As usual we had a bit of a dilemma about which direction to take after our Romanian visit. Not having been near an ocean for a few months we decided to make the move toward the sea. Croatia had long been on our list of places we wanted to visit. Because most everyone in Europe is heading to the coast to get away from the inland heat, we had some difficulty finding affordable flights and accommodations. We didn’t want to travel by train again so we looked for inexpensive flights that would take us in the general direction. We found one from Bucharest to Sarajevo and decided that would be our next stop. We decided to stay for 2 weeks and then move on by bus toward the smaller town of Mostar for one week. Not really moving quickly, but for us it felt like a true change of pace.
A very early bus ride (3:30 am) from Brasov to Bucharest got us
to the airport just as the sun was coming up. Strangely enough the flight to Sarajevo should take a little over one hour, but in these days of convoluted airline routing we had to go to Istanbul first and wait seven hours for our next flight to Sarajevo. We lived in Istanbul for one month earlier and loved it and it was actually kind of fun to pass back through again. Of course Ataturk airport in Istanbul had a tragic bombing recently and we had some nervousness to go along with our curiosity to see how the beautiful airport might have changed. Surprisingly everything appeared normal and the area that had been bombed appeared completely back to normal, with shoppers and diners crowded everywhere. Life returns to normal quickly here.
Like most Western tourists, what we knew of Sarajevo was mostly two things, the 1984 Winter Olympics and the tragic war and siege that took place in the early 1990’s. The city is beautiful from the air as it is tucked into the narrow area that runs along a river between large, intensely green mountains on all sides. The airport was quite small and transit time was
A quick taxi ride got us to our apartment located just south of the Old Town area of town which is called Bascarsija. The ride from the airport takes the route that was known during the war as “snipers alley” because it was the dividing line between the warring factions. Bullet holes and non-repaired buildings are quite noticeable even though most of the more modern center of town has been largely rebuilt with malls and taller buildings.
Reminiscent of a tiny Istanbul, Bascarsija is filled with tiny alleys and craft shops. Western and local tourists crowd the main square day and night and it seems that the war is a long ago memory. Heavily veiled Muslim women mix with fashionably dressed hipsters. The restaurants are packed and the merchants do a bustling business. Mosques, churches and synagogues are all represented in the tiny area.
Farther down the river that splits the town in half, Austro-Hungarian Empire style buildings line the narrow streets and represent the time when they ruled the area. The ornate buildings have been largely repaired and make for an interesting juxtaposition with the tiny Ottoman Empire
buildings nearby. The newly and beautifully restored City Hall is gorgeous and is well worth a visit just to see the remarkable restoration. Tragically destroyed during the war, it is a fitting show of where the city is hopefully going in the future as it glows in the light along the river at night.
It was interesting to see the area around the Latin Bridge which is most famous as being the site of the assassination of Austro-Hungarian heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 that led shortly after to the start of World War I.
We climbed the hill to the Yellow Fort which provides a wonderful view over the city. On the way we passed through one of the many graveyards interspersed throughout the city. It was a sad reminder of the war to see so many of the gravestones were dated in 1992, 93 and 94. Too many young lives were lost during this time and it was very sad to see the cemeteries literally everywhere within the beautiful surroundings.
The Olympic sites are mostly quite some way from town in the nearby mountains, but we did decide to
Lead to the Academy of Fine Arts
visit one unique site. The luge and bobsled track was built high above town on Mt. Trebevic. A public bus runs to the site only on Saturdays and we took the 45 minute winding route into the mountains. The views of the city from the top were truly breathtaking. The track has been abandoned since the war and has not been used since. The forest has grown back in the area and it is quite a strange site that is not visited by many tourists. Graffiti covers a large part of the track and the entire site is quite eerie to visit. We were warned that some of the area is still mined and some people have been robbed in the area. Also wolves are known to prowl the wilderness nearby. It made for an exciting adventure on a misty morning. We walked the entire track down the side of the mountain. A trail at the bottom could be followed that eventually (after a couple of miles) ended up on paved roads that led back into the city. It made for an adventurous and exhausting last excursion in Sarajevo.
On to Mostar. The famous scenic train was
not running and we took a very nicely air-conditioned bus for the two hour ride through possibly the most beautiful scenery we have seen in Europe. The road winds its way past towering granite peaks and runs along a lake of the most beautiful blue color as can be imagined. Small towns are packed into any open area and restaurants that specialize in roasted lamb are located anywhere that space provides. Wild honey vendors have stands of multi-colored sweetness set along the road. I don’t know if Bosnia has national parks, but this could easily be marketed as a destination in itself. If the train route is more beautiful than the road, it is not to be missed.
Mostar is mostly known for its Unesco heritage Old Town area. Almost totally destroyed during the war, it has been completely rebuilt and is crowded with tourists on day trips from Dubrovnik and Sarajevo. The most famous part of the restoration is the Old Bridge (Stari Most) that arches gracefully across the river far below. Originally built during the 1500’s it is beautiful and provides a wonderful centerpiece to the entire area. Divers tempt fate and jump from the
bridge several times a day and children flock to the beach below to beat the summer heat in the cool blue water below.
Perhaps a week in Mostar is too much. There are some beautiful waterfalls nearby and the religious site of Medjugorje is located nearby although I don’t know that we will have the opportunity to visit either.
Our trip continues toward Montenegro soon. We continue to pick up speed as we go downhill toward the ocean, even if it is only relative to how slow we normally travel.
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