I had heard from others that there was a free walking tour of Mostar available. The hostel didn’t have any information (the only downside of this place) and told me to go and enquire at a tourist info centre. Well I thought I would be able to find one of those pretty easily on the main drag but no, I walk all through the old town and out the other side to what used to be the front line, getting stroppier and stroppier with the knowledge that checkout is at midday and they can’t hold my pack (the only other annoying thing about Majdas). I eventually find an info centre and they tell me that walking tours cost €50 (!) and have to be organised through one of three travel agencies whose details he passes on. Well I’m not about to pay that much for something I thought was going to be free so I head back to the hostel. I had intended to do some exploring of my own on foot but I can’t be bothered carting my pack down to the bus station for storage in the heat of a very hot day just so I can have four more hours in Mostar. Instead I jump on the 12.10 bus for Sarajevo. My entrance into Sarajevo is similar to my entrance into Mostar in that there are signs of war at every turn. However I can definitely feel that I’m in a bigger city; I think the trams give it away. Kind of nice to see trams in another part of the world as I had previously thought of them as so uniquely Melbourne. I check into the highly recommended Balkan Han Hostel, meet Jennifer, a very fun Welsh girl in my otherwise empty dorm, fall asleep for a few hours and wake up only to take myself out for dinner down the road at a delicious restaurant called Brasil where I don’t feel bad at all for not eating local food and devour crumbed chicken bits, chips, a pile of salad and a G&T.
Today I did the tour around wider Mostar with the three Aussie girls from the Kotor transfer, four other kiwis and an English guy, all of which are staying at the same hostel as the Aussie gals. This is the most kiwis I’ve seen in one place since I left home, and for once we outnumber Aussies.
Our first stop was for (my second) breakfast in Blagaj at a restaurant on the river. We have burek, much better than the one I got from a bakery yesterday. Majdas told us afterwards not to order from a bakery if you want the real deal. There are all types of burek, most commonly meat, cheese and potato. We had ours served in the traditional style with a sort of drinkable yoghurt which tastes like a mix of Greek yoghurt and feta. It wasn’t my favourite but I probably drank at least half a glass.
Our guide provides a little information on the country. We are in the southern part, the Herzegovina part, where there are 200 sunny days per year and temperatures can reach 55 degrees in the hottest places. Because of the climate, the area is agricultural, growing and exporting a lot of grapes and other produce. The southern area also receives a lot more tourists. I’m not sure exactly what goes on in the north but I know there are a lot of mines, namely for copper, silver and gold. Bosnia and Herzegovina used to be ruled separately and relations between the two weren’t so good. Herzegovina was ruled by a grand duke. Herzog is German for duke, so Herzegovina loosely translates to ‘the Duke’s land’. From where we are standing on the river front we can see the remains of the grand duke’s fortress on a hill above us. The two regions didn’t merge until the 15th century when the grand duke could find no local eligible bachelors for his eldest daughter. She was married to the son of the ruler of the north and the two regions became one = Bosnia and Herzegovina. The other thing that Blagaj has going for it, is the dervish house that is there (see one of my earlier posts from Turkey when I learned about dervishes). It is no longer used for its primary purpose as there are fewer and fewer dervishes. After un-shoeing and covering up our guide took us through each of the rooms explaining what they would have been used for.
Our second stop is a place called Medjugorje. This used to be a nothing place, just rocks and grass. It’s rise to notoriety is thanks to two locals girls that walked up a hill in 1981 and had a vision of Mary. Upon returning, no one believed them so two villagers returned the following day and confirmed the sighting. Now it is the third biggest Catholic pilgrimage destination in the world. Despite this and stories of healing, Medugorie is not recognised by the Vatican as a pilgrimage destination because for this to happen there has to be multiple verified stories of healing. Now Medjugorje is one of the wealthiest villages in Bosnia with many foreign believers coming here to buy land. It didn’t make much of an impression of me, hence no photographs.
Our next destination is the much anticipated Kravice waterfalls. And they don’t disappoint. It’s like a mini Niagra with falls cascading about 10 plus metres into the green Neretva River. The tour guide glosses over the fact that the water is really fricken cold. I love how the kiwis take the plunge regardless and frolick around the rocks and mini islands and the Aussie girls get up to their knees, scream and jump around and go back to sunbathing. Not one to leave any rock unturned or any cave unexplored, I spend the most time in the water, getting in behind the waterfalls and jumping off rocks. I found a very well camouflaged frog, but I didn’t get too close for fear it might be poisonous. We spend a few hours here and enjoy a huge barbecue lunch; the closest thing we’ve had to home cooked food so far. There’s salad and chicken, mini sausages. Deelish.
Next up we have the picturesque medieval village of Počitelj built on a hillside. Like many towns in this region, it is distinctly Ottoman in its design. Most residents fled the village after the Yugoslav wars and now it has an ageing population of only about 30 residents. A big celebration marked the birth of the most recent child born in 2011. From the top of the tower we have an awesome 360 degree view over the village and the river.
After one more stop that delivers a great view over Mostar we are home. I have a few hours of RnR before me and Katie again meet up with the Aussies to watch the big game, B&H v Nigeria. The atmosphere is electric. Everyone is dressed up in blue and yellow, there are cars trailing the streets with young guys sitting in open boots hanging out the flag, kids are playing football in the street and there whistles, horns, flares and fireworks going off every minute. To fit in, we are equipped with face paint and faux tattoos of the B&H flag. I am glad there is just the five of us and not more hostellers because we come across the owner of the girls’ hostel who is a bit of a character and he invites us to sit with him, his wife and his four year old son who is very cheeky and a bit of a brat but cute at the same time. We are smack in the middle of all the locals in an open bar on the street watching the game on a projector screen. I don’t think I have ever been as excited for a football game as I am tonight. We all stand for the national anthem which is the first I have heard without words. We ask why and are told that before the war their anthem used to have words but afterwards there were none, most probably because no one would be able to agree on the lyrics with Bosnians, Croats and Serbs all living in the one country (more on this later). By the end of the game I am a little hesitant in calling myself a New Zealander as the Kiwi ref made one hell of a blunder in disallowing a legitimate goal which put B&H out of the cup, suffering a devastating 1-nil loss. I have since learned that not even sport is exempt from the corruption that appears rife in this country and the coach had undeservedly included his nephew on the side, much to the disgust of the general public.