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Published: June 25th 2017
I decided to go on an organized tour. I really wanted to visit Mostar and I found a trip that had a tour through some of Serbia’s beautiful parks and with 3 days in Bosnia. Seemed to be perfect. No driving on bad roads and getting lost, everything arranged ahead of time, no looking for hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions, being delivered to all the main sites without hassle, what could go wrong? Nothing apparently. It was all as advertised. The group of 33 people were very nice. There was no arguing, no bad behavior, no shouting, no complaining. The scenery was beautiful, the Bosnians and Serbs were very nice, everything was very cheap. And yet …
I very much doubt I will ever go on an organized tour again. My photos of the hundreds of little farms with their barns and tractors and sheep, are all out of focus having been taken from the window of my bus as we whizzed past. Look, there’s the famous bridge that was written about in the famous book, whoosh, there it goes. No parking, no place to stop. So pretty, with the mountains looming in the background and the deep blue water sparkling.
Can hardly remember where it was, the name never really registered. Is this travelling? It’s certainly convenient. Everything is planned and managed for you but travel becomes a series of fleeting impressions, with little time to really register what you are seeing and certainly no time to savor the flavor, sights and smells of travel in exotic places. And Bosnia is still exotic.
I didn’t say anything or complain because I quickly realized that I was the only person who felt like this. Nobody else was complaining. Many of them were on their second or third trip of the year. All ages, all perfectly happy, and just me thinking WTF did we just see? And I am possibly the only person in the modern world that doesn’t know that an organized trip means spending long periods of time on the tour bus, that much of the sightseeing is done from the window of the tour bus and that sometimes you drive a long distance and then spend 10 minutes at your destination before getting back on the bus and driving another long distance. I think that it is fair to say that the main purpose is to take lots
The Royal Crypt in Oplenac
Decorated with over 4 million pieces of Moreno glass
and lots of selfies with the scenery and anything else of interest as the backdrop.
So I am not going to write too much because I am not qualified to do so. We spent 2 nights in the Zlatibor mountains and visited Uvac national park where we saw some eagles but didn’t climb a hill to get a view of the winding river. Lovely scenery all around. We went on a boat trip and took a walk in an undeveloped cave where we saw some stalagmites and stalactites. I should be an expert by now as I have visited caves in just about every country that I have passed through but I am all caved-out and I still can’t tell you which is which.
St. George’s Church in Oplenac is where the Serbian royal family is buried. The church is richly decorated with mosaics and very impressive but the real attraction is down in the crypts. The walls are decorated with over 4 million pieces of Moreno glass and it is just stunning. I could have spent some serious time down there but after about 3 seconds (I exaggerate) it was time to go.
Then it was
time to move on to Sarajevo for 2 nights. Sarajevo is in a valley, completely surrounded by mountains. It is like they are sitting at the bottom of a bowl and during the Bosnian war, the Serbs would continuously fire on them from the mountains and they endured a terrible siege for nearly 4 years. You can still see the war damage on many buildings. There was an 800 meter tunnel that was the only lifeline to the outside world and smuggled food and water to the besieged residents. We visited the house where the entry to the tunnel was situated. The Serbs knew about the tunnel but they left it alone because it ran under the airport where the UN was stationed.
This all happened barely 20 years ago and the wounds must still be raw but the Bosnians have decided to forgive the Serbs. My theory is that their families are all so mixed up – Serbs, Croats and Bosnians all married to each other – that they really had no choice. Emir Kusturica, the famous filmmaker, actor and musician was born in Sarajevo to a secular Serbian family, his father died of a heart attack during
the bombardment of the city and Kusturica has vowed to never return to Sarajevo. He lives mostly in America and sometimes he stays in a holiday village in Serbia’s Mokra Gora region that he originally built as a film set for one of his movies.
The old town is like a Turkish village. The Bosnians are very nice and welcoming. Evidently very poor too and grateful for the big investments that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are making, building skyscrapers and holiday villages, but also worried about how this will influence the moderate Muslims and their relations with the Serbs and Croats. We did a city tour and even had two hours to wonder around on our own. I walked through the cute little alleys and around the backstreets and really enjoyed my free time, taking lots of photographs and eating ice cream to cool down because at the end of May, while it was technically still Spring, the temperature was nearly 30 degrees and this global warming business is no joke. It’s so hot everywhere!
There is a lot of metal work in Sarajevo but what really caught my eye were the beautiful multicolored glass lamps.
I noticed some bowls that I bought in Greece that were made in Turkey and my lamp was also made in Turkey. I bought two of them and hoped that they would get home in one piece and that my husband wouldn’t think that they were kitsch. (He didn’t, he loved them, said they were my best souvenir purchase ever!)
At about 2 in the afternoon we set off for Mostar with a stop on the way at Blagaj Dervish house at the mouth of the Buna river where we had lunch. We got to Mostar not long before sunset, admired Stari Most from a smaller bridge for a few minutes, took lots of photos, hurried on to Stari Most and crossed the bridge itself, before hurrying through the bazaar with barely any time to admire the wonderful surroundings and old town all bathed in golden light. And then it was time to get back on the bus for a 3 hour return journey to Sarajevo for the night. What??? Was I even there?
Bosnia is lovely, I just got a taste, hardly that – but I would love to spend a few days in Mostar. I hope
I will get an opportunity to visit again. We had very few stops along the way, both in Serbia and Bosnia, because there isn’t actually anywhere to stop. There are hardly any petrol stations and very few restaurants and shops along the main roads. The roads are good, but very winding and slow going.
We spent our last two nights in Belgrade, a nice, vibrant city. Lots of shops there and bars and restaurants. In the summer there are also boat nightclubs all along the river. We did a city tour and had two hours for shopping which I spent looking for graffiti and at the end had an Instagram déjà vu moment when I saw Kucamaca Portreti selling his magnets and paintings on the main shopping street. He paints cats and dogs as famous people, mostly politicians. I bought some magnets but I am still kicking myself for not buying Macron as a Malinois even though my dog is a Malinois and I like Macron but the Malinois is a Belgian shepherd and Macron is French – oh never mind, the heat must of really been getting to me by this time, every day hotter and hotter –
View from Drvengrad, Serbia
This is Emir Kustarica's ethno holiday village. Lots of wooden houses, some old cars, nice cafes. Popular with tourists -- I'm a tourist! -- but I don't really like this sort of thing. Beautiful views all around.
on our last day, at one point, it was 35.
And so on our last day we left Belgrade and visited Novi Sad where after a brief tour we had two hours of shopping time and everybody said it was very cheap but I again took the time to wander around the back streets and found some nice graffiti there too. After that we visited the town of Sremski Karlovci in the wine growing region and visited a church to see the collection of icons but it was a Sunday and the town was in the grip of wedding fever. So we couldn’t see the icons close-up because the church was being used but I liked the weddings better. There was a gypsy band serenading them into the church and on the way out again and then the next wedding would go in and the band would start up again. We finished off with a visit to a winery for a tasting and to sample the honey at the honey museum. Learning about the production of honey there was really interesting. According to the story, the founder of the honey business was very sick and he returned home to
die but was restored to good health to the amazement of all after eating the special honey for 3 months. I bought some honey too.
But the day was not finished. We still had 3 hours at a shopping mall in Belgrade before 3 hours at the airport. Instead of going to the shopping mall, I struck out on my own, across the bridge to take some photos of graffiti I had seen on the bus. The bridge was a bit longer than I thought, the sun was very, very hot, no shade, I didn’t have water. Found the graffiti, headed off to the park to look for a shady tree and after two hours made my way back to the mall which had in the meantime become a truly delightful place with its air conditioning and cold drinks. Oh yes, lots of shops too and probably really cheap but if it ever happens that I travel to another country and spend time in malls with the exact same shops I can find at home, then the time has come for me to stop travelling.
I realize that many people can’t do independent travel but I can’t do
organized tours and I am happy that I experimented with a small one just to see. I had big plans. My husband said: “I told you so”. But I love to travel and don’t want to do it alone – so maybe I won’t be doing the silk route or Cuba anytime soon but Europe is really nice and there is still so much to see – so I will be dragging my husband out of his comfort zone but he won’t mind because after I have planned and read and booked, I take him on his very own privately organized tour and we both have a really good time.
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