Bosnia & Hercegovina p1

Written by on July 21, 2012 in Europe, General

I did not know what to expect in Bosnia, although I’d heard it would be scorching hot, with Mostar apparently being the hottest city in all of Europe in the summer.  Yuck!  I had been watching the weather and saw a massive temperature drop (from 49C to 28C, or approx 120F down to 84F) forecast for the Monday I went, and waited out the heat in Dubrovnik by the sea.  Hallelujah that the weather cooperated, as I think I had a better summertime experience in Bosnia than most travelers as the weather was absolutely perfect!

Aside from checking the weather forecasts, I had done very little research, and dove into my “Western Balkans” Lonely Planet on the 3.5 hour bus ride from Dubrovnik to Mostar.  I had read up on some of the history behind the former Yugoslavia, but just as it related to Croatia.  I actually didn’t get much reading done, as I met a new American friend…a 29 yr old woman from Alaska.  Kristin was also travelling by herself, and had recently been to all the places I was headed to in the coming months, so I was very interested in hearing her stories, experiences and recommendations.  We also swapped stories about losing important things while on the road, as she had just recently left her tablet in a taxi back in Athens and was upset that she’d been disconnected…but more upset that her debit card was in the same case and she was down to only a credit card and $300 cash.  The big problem with that is that all of the tourist sites in this region, as well as a lot of the restaurants were cash only.  So, Kristin was having to skip all of the great tourist attractions so she could eat every night.  It brought back the memory of how I had run out of money in Cuba on my last RTW trip, with zero access to funds, and the kind lady in the internet cafe who gave me $10 so I could eat that night and get to the airport the next day.  Anyway, I had a few ideas for Kristin to either get a pin number for her to be able to withdraw cash off her credit card, or to call her credit union and wire funds to me and then I could give her cash, so invited her to use my computer/Skype to call her banks.  Unfortunately neither idea worked.  And, she was too proud to call her mom for help.  So, I put on my travel angel wings on and gave her $200.  I really didn’t want her to have to miss out on the stuff she’d travelled all this way to see.  Some people I’ve told this to think I’m crazy, but I honestly think she’ll mail me a check when she gets home to Alaska.  She never asked for money. And she didn’t want to take so much.  In the end, she took the cash and gave me her contact information AND her parent’s contact information, so I’m not worried.  Let’s see if a check comes in the mail mid-August!  This is Kristin – do you think I’ll see that money again? UPDATE – Kristin sent the money, as promised, as soon as she got home to the US 🙂

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Back to Bosnia….

We arrived at the bus station in Mostar and were not met by the people from my hostel, but a really nice and chatty guy working for another hostel nearby happily walked us to where we needed to go. Turns out he had lived in Laguna Beach for a couple years and spoke perfect English. And he was the first of many Bosnians that I met that went out of their way to make sure I (and other tourists) were happy and well taken care of.  I got checked in and once we got Kristin sorted out, we headed out to explore the town.  I’m going to quote Lonely Planet’s description of Mostar, as I can’t quite do it the same justice using my own words, “The impossibly quaint Kujundziluk (Gold Alley) bustles joyously with trinket sellers and in between, the Balkans’ most celebrated bridge forms a truly majestic stone arc between reincarnated medeival towers.  It’s a magical scene.  And at dusk, the lights of numerous mill-house restaurants twinkle delightfully across gushing streamlets.”

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I definitely could not have described Mostar that well, but the description fits.  We probably walked back and forth through the tiny town 5 times that afternoon, and I just kept getting out my camera as at each turn it seemed like there was a better shot to take of the bridge, or the cute little town.  Kristin was in a hurry to move on to Sarajevo and so we said goodbye and she headed to the train station, while I was left to enjoy the town that all of a sudden went quiet around 4p as the hordes of day-trippers on buses had vacated.

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Just before we’d gone out to check out the town, I’d asked Mesa from our hostel if he could hunt for a tennis court/partner for me to hit with later that evening.  I checked in with him and he’d been successful, and walked me over to a beautiful faciliy that was used once a year for an ITF tournament that comes to Mostar.  He’d set up a match with a guy that was probably a weak 4.0, but I didn’t care…at least I got to play!

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This was the first of many times in the next 24 hours that Mesa would bend over backwards to try to make me fall in love with Mostar.  That night, he invited me to join him and 3 other travellers staying at the hostel for dinner and a mini bar-crawl.  His wife Melija joined us, as well.  He took us to a cool club called Ali baba that was built inside a cave, and then a cool chill-out open-air club/lounge.

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My new Aussie friends, David and Tom, as well as a German girl named Janina, arranged with Mesa to do a tour of some of the surrounding area the next day.

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Mesa took us on the tour himself, with stops at Blagaj, a village where the Buna River gushes out of acave backed by soaring cliffs, with a dervish monastery sitting riverside, where we all had traditional Turkish coffees.

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The nextstop was Pocitelj, an Ottoman-era fortress, with greater photo ops the higher we climbed.

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We then made our way to Kravice Falls, a gorgeous 25M waterfall, which also made for an excellent and refreshing swim stop. I wish we could have stayed here all afternoon!

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The next two stops were were way up there on the list of worst tourist traps EVER.  The first was a fake village that was apparently recently built, but to look like an older village.  I’m not even sure why it was on the tour.  We didn’t either, but amused ourselves with the farm animals that were in the back until our guide was ready to move on.  Why couldn’t we have stayed at the waterfalls longer, was what all of us were thinking.

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The last stop was a place called Medugorje. Apparently it is one of the most frequently visited places in all of the former Yugoslavia as about 30 years ago some teenagers claimed that the Virgin Mary spoke to them. This little town in the middle of nowhere has built a huge church and block after block after block are lined with tourist shops selling Virgin Mary’s of all shapes and sizes.  It was ridiculous.  I think we stopped for all of 90 seconds before all jumping back in the car to head back to town to catch our train to Sarajevo.  Aside from those last 2 stops, I had a fantastic 24 hours in Mostar.

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