Monday, October 3, 2011

our bosnian surprise

"bosnian coffee," mostar, bosnia
i confidently said goodbye, shut the door and offered a hearty "good night!" in bosnian to our driver. bear in mind, this was 11:00am.

with a combined use of english, bosnian and german michelle and i managed to get a taxi ride out to blagaj, a small, very old town about six miles down the valley from mostar, where we were staying. oh, and a return pick up arranged for hours later. the driver lived in germany for a few years and he and i managed to communicate using all three languages. by the end of the drive the driver and i were throwing out all the words we knew and i was proud to leave him with a smile.

herceg fortress, our destination, blagaj, bosnia

out. in. the. middle. of. nowhere. blagaj, bosnia. wow, just beautiful, scrubby and hot, with limestone formations poking out of the dirt and no one around. approaching town we could see a fortress on the mountain looming over town: our destination. i pointed to it and the driver, with a slightly worried face, said "nur laufen." only walking, no cars. for a moment he thought we wanted him to drive us all the way up.

after an hour climb up the backside of a small mountain and we were staring down on blagaj with a fair part of herzegovina splayed out before us. after the illyrians and then after the romans, this was duke stjepan herceg's fortress. the name source of "herzegovina," the southern territory of "bosnia and herzegovina." we found ourselves clambering through and over a 14th century fortress all by ourselves. there's been a settlement up here since the 3rd-4th century along with human remains found in the valley that date back more than 12,000 years. there was no admission fee, no safety, no nothing even resembling an american fear of injury liability anywhere. just us and an old ruin on a hill. great hike.

from the top of a 500 year old minaret, mostar, bosnia

bolivar, mostar, bosnia
lesson learned: never judge a town by its bus station. we learned that in mostar. dropped off at the edge of town in front of a run-down communist era structure, assaulted (gently, of course) as we were literally stepping off the bus by women selling us a room for the night and then some begging roma mothers with their infants held at their hips and dressed in dirty clothes. roma, a problem we would try very hard to understand but about which we would receive very different opinions. we trucked through town to our hotel in the heat of the day, sometimes shadowed by bullet-torn shells of old, blown out buildings never repaired from the war. our bus into town drove right down bolivar, the dividing line between croats and serbs during the war. we were kind of asking ourselves "we came here by choice?" yet we left four days later thinking "why are we leaving so soon?"

don't know about the rest of you but pretty much all we knew about bosnia was of the balkan wars in the 90s. what we didn't know was how charming, how deeply historical and subtlety inviting this country could be. we stayed in mostar first (followed later by four days in sarajevo), in the southern part of the country. small, old, ottoman. mosques and churches, minarets and spires. bosnian coffee and turkish delight all set in the a beautiful valley cut but by the neretva river. you're in europe, but you're not. if you kept to the very center of the city, which is easy to do, you would be forgiven for thinking you were in the 16th or 17th century. well, apart from the occasional beer distributor umbrella shading a cafe here and there.

we're back in croatia, grumpy waiters be damned, and camping out in zagreb, the capital. we came through here on the train to the coast a few weeks ago, spent a lovely couple of hours in the park, and decided to return if we could. over the last few weeks, many people commented "oh, have you been to zagreb? no? you really should." so we did. got a GREAT apartment in the middle of the city and, for the moment, we're living like a couple of 'poor ol' big dogs.' we'll report back.

1 comment:

  1. great photos, rusty. love the shot of the bridge. oh, and that bosnian coffee? we call that turkish coffee. that was every day at vahram's house. the man had a knack!