Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Bosnia and Herzegovina - Mostar and Sarajevo

We were expecting an early start, and had our alarm set for 6.40am but we got an unexpected wake up call at 5.30am when a very large sea bird, possibly a Skua, decided to knock on our balcony door. He was attacking his own reflection, and was determined to keep knocking until Michael opened the door and scared it off.
We managed a few more zzzzs until the alarm went off. Bags were out at 7.00am and we were down to another sumptuous breakfast. This morning the staff who had overslept, there was a queue of guests outside the dining room  but no one at the door to cross off our room number, after about 5 minutes a member of kitchen staff appeared, opened the doors and just noted our room number on a piece of paper. The dishes were still being laid out as we swarmed in.
All was well, and at 8.00am we were all aboard and off on the next leg of the journey.

We drove south of Dubrovnik to a little lookout point to get a good view back over the town.

The lovely terracotta rooftops were stunning, the fresh ones are the ones replaced after being damaged in the '90s war. Then we had to drive back through Dubrovnik, over the bridge and back the way we'd come.
The distances travelled are so long that we cannot afford the time to travel on back roads, to cover the distance between towns we are using motorways. Maybe other tours use 2 drivers and don't travel as far each day but these 6 or 7 hour coach trips are tiring everyone out.

We travelled through the fruit growing area again, through the Neretva Valley, down to Neum where we again stopped for a pee and coffee. Then it was across the border in Bosnia and Herzegovina, back into Croatia for a few miles before turning off the coastal road to head inland and once again into Bosnia and Herzegovina. This border crossing was not as easy and quick as the others. After 1 hour 10 minutes we were on our way.

We were late arriving in Mostar but our guide was waiting for us.
It was hot in Mostar, over 30 degrees C. Our guide told us that we were lucky not be visiting in July when it can reach 45 degrees C.
After a further warning about beggars and pickpockets we began our tour. 
We walked through the old town, along lovely narrow cobbled streets with colourful shops all around. It was quite exhausting having to listen to the guide, watch my step on the cobbles, hold my bag, take photos and quickly check out the shops.

Then we got there – the Bridge. 
Stari Most. 
This was THE reason for doing this tour, we didn't think that we'd get to see it any other way. We can remember how we felt when the original was deliberately destroyed during the war (still today they are saying that they don't know who actually fire the missile that destroyed it!). The reconstruction is very good, and the authenticity of the smooth cobbles over the bridge is something to behold. Michael had a good laugh at my impersonation of an old lady, gingerly stepping along trying not to fall over. Fortunately I'm the one with the camera so there's no evidence.

It was end of the school term and Mostar was full of school parties, so our guide took us straight on to our 'special event' assuring us that later in the afternoon they would have gone home and we'll have more room to manoeuvre..
Our 'special event' was a visit to a traditional Turkish house and a demonstration on how to make the traditional dish, Burek (filo type pastry filled with minced lamb or pototo and onion or fruit and nuts) and traditional Bosnian coffee.

Very interesting and I have promised to have a go at making the pastry for burek when we get home, the coffee we can pass on though.

We left the house and went back to the bridge – passing this war evidence.

  our guide was right, the streets were almost empty. There was plenty of time to check out those shops that we'd raced past. We examined a couple of floor rugs but there wasn't one that was 'just the thing' so we arrived back at the meeting place with plenty of time to kill. We found a nice little bistro (if that's the right word for a small Bosnian restaurant) and ordered beer and pizza. Ralph and Hanny joined us and ordered likewise. 
Then it was time to meet up and return to the coach.
In the coach parking area there was a fantastic portable bus washing machine -

Then the bus drove us around to our hotel, in the new part of town.
Dinner was a buffet at the hotel and there was certainly a lot to choose from – all a little too meaty and fatty for my taste, but the salads and vegies were good.

Feeling quite un-modern we had to call reception to send someone up to turn on the tv for us. It was, of course, just one click on the remote, but there were 2 remotes and the instructions were not in English. So we found CNN news channel, caught up with world news (American style).

Another 6.40 alarm call, breakfast at 7.00 and on the coach leaving for a day trip to Sarajevo at 8.00am.
We had a quick pee stop on the way, Antonia our tour leader kindly checked out and then cleaned the ladies toilet for us, Michael was first in the gents' toilets so he cleaned them.
The rest stop ran out of coffee so those of us at the rear end of the queue got a premixed coffee, vanilla, cream and sugar drink. It was actually quite nice, very sweet, but nice.

Then it was on to Sarajevo.
Sarajevo, the second reason for this trip.
Famous, in it's recent history, for -
 the Assassination of Grand Duke Ferdinand and his wife, which started the First World War. 
The 1984 Winter Olympics where Torvill and Dean blitzed the ice skating competion with their performance set to Ravel's Bolero,  and set a new standard and format for ice skating.
The seige during the1990s Bosnian war, (the longest in modern history) many atrocities and a street dubbed 'Sniper Alley'.
Going even further back we have the Turks in the Ottoman period, 15th Century and the Austro-Hungarian period, 18th Century.
An amazing city with obvious tenacity to keep going.

We drove through the outskirts of the city and were struck by how poor these people were, tending small lots of land. Subsistence living.


Then we were in the suburbs of Sarjevo and we saw plenty of evidence of the war, damaged buildings, holes in walls and obvious hasty repairs to walls of high blocks of flats which had never been made good – they were still patched up.


We actually entered the city via Sniper Alley, past the Holiday Inn which had been at the centre of many tv news reports at the timeof the seige.

We were dropped off by the river and met by our guide. We started the tour with a walk along the river, past the newly renovated town hall and along to the Latin Bridge. The spot where Archduke Franz Ferdinand stood up in his car, a lucky local partisan couldn't believe his luck, took a shot and as they say, that shot rang out all over the world.

 We crossed the street and stood at the spot the assassin had stood. Michael and I took a moment to reflect on the question - how different would our lives have been if that hadn't happened?

Then we walked up into the town and “The border of two cultures”. 

The 15th Century Ottoman -

 and 18th Century Austro-Hungarian -

 The sudden change in architectural styles was striking. 
We walked through the Austro-Hungarian area to the Cathedral. In front of the Cathedral is a large paved area with red splashes, this marks the spot where people died in the 90s war. These are called Sarjevo Roses, each marking a spot where a mortar shell killed more than one person. the holes in the concrete were filled with red resin. There are still a few around the city, but they are disappearing as the pavements and roads are resurfaced.

Behind the Cathedral was a building which was obviously badly damaged in the war, no one has yet come up with the right plans or the money to restore it, what a pity.

Then we headed past the produce market, and another street Sarajevo Rose, into the Ottoman, Turkish area. The streets were narrower, cobbled and the shops smaller and the whole area more like a large bazaar.
Our tour finished at the Sebilj Fountain in a small square in the centre of the Turkish area. On one side of the square were streets full of copper smiths, and the sounds of little hammers beating copper and the other sides were assorted stalls, shops, restaurants. 

I had spotted a restaurant up a side street just before the tour finished, it looked nice and quite so I dragged Michael back there.
It was like an oasis – so quiet. Hardly any passing pedestrians. We sat outside and remembering our cooking demonstration in Mostar ordered Burek and a mixed salad. Michael had his usual non-alcoholic beer and I tried a Limonada. When my drink arrived there were 3 packets of sugar on the side of the saucer and some lemon pips floating in the glass. I had a tentative sip, yes it was real lemon juice. I only added one packet of sugar, and it was very refreshing.
As a treat we had dessert, Michael had Baklava and I had a stuffed apple in syrup – both absolutely delicious.

Then we slowly walked around the streets, sat under some shady trees by a fountain and then headed back into the bustle of the Basarsija bazaar'and met up ready to find the bus and head back to the hotel in Mostar.

We were all pretty tired and all voted to head directly back, no pee stop needed.

The hotel in Mostar was above a huge shopping mall so we headed out, found a supermarket and stocked up on crisps and iced tea,walked down the road to the Del Rio restaurant.
(Well, as Michael 'knew' the way, we actually walked 3 sides of a square to get there, we walked home the direct route.)
The food was really good, and really large serves, we couldn't finish it. In this part of the world we should probably order a starter each and share a main course.
A short walk home, some tv, bags packed and bed by 10 pm ready for another early start.

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