Monday, 18 July 2011

Bosnia - Beauty and Bullet Holes

We eventually made it into Sarajevo, Bosnia, where we are to meet and stay with Josip's wealthy business friends.  It really struck me as we are parking under the veranda near the pool, how nice and pretty this property in the middle of town was. As on the other side of the pool is more of a bold reality of war-torn Sarajevo.  It's like night and day! Knowing a bit about it's history during the Siege of Sarajevo in 1992-6, it is refreshing to see this city making new progress.

We eventually make it to dinner with the business friends, and sat around a beautiful table full of salmon, prosciutto, mango, roast vegetables, fresh bread, cheese, the works.. one of them asks me (now keep in mind, we never got to hello, names, etc.)  As soon as I sat down, this man merely says.. "Why are you here.."  I'm like, "what?"  he says again, "WHY ARE YOU HERE".  I told him simply because I am traveling around the world and Bosnia i Herzegovina is as good as any country to visit, and I'd truly like to see them all!  He asks, "Don't you know about Sarajevo's history?"  I said yes.. He says, "It's stupid for you to come here..  (His questioning was bold and disturbing).  I told him that I look forward to any experience I get from being here.  He says, "You can not have a good experience here".. and I told him that I beg to differ.  I have been in this country for at least 1/2 a day, agreed it's not much, but I've liked it so far and I really look forward to seeing more!  He again says it is stupid for me to be here.  He carried on more than I am including in this post, but I was kindly answering his questions as I do with anybody I first encounter.  However,  now he was really starting to tick me off.  So I said, "Look... you can judge me for visiting YOUR country, but I will take away from Bosnia something.. I don't know what it is yet, but it will be something good.  He says, "This is not possible.."  I angrily across the table said, "It is absolutely possible!  I am visiting without preconceptions of the past, and I view each country, INCLUDING YOURS, with an open mind.. whatever I get from it, is what I get.  But I DON'T BELIEVE it is stupid for me to be here.. AT ALL!"

Luckily, my friend Josip supported me and was having a bit of a chuckle.  The Bosnian man just looked at me.  And from then on, he was different.. kind even.  We passed and shared food, and had a completely normal evening from that point on.  However, as I sat eating, I couldn't help but to really want to ask about his past.  I purposely didn't as I didn't want to stir him up, and I am also truly loving taking away every country with fresh eyes, rather than what he thinks I should be thinking about it.  I want to be compassionate about him and their history. (Because quite frankly, my first impressions as we rode through the country are quite good) He was asking me these questions and making judgement because he's been through the war.. maybe even fought in it.  I only saw bits of it on t.v., but for him, it's a completely different and dramatic view point.  I get it.. I get his questions and statements. But, whatever (his "story") is, I don't want to judge him either, and I hope we have both walked away enriched from the experience of getting to know a little bit about each other as we are NOW..

The next morning, I needed a new SD card for my camera.  Josip kindly showed me old town Sarajevo, including a very local breakfast here at his favorite restaraunt.. it was great!

I'm going to add in several photos of buildings here of our walk around old town (Stari Grad) Sarajevo.. Usually building photos are quite boring, but being that no matter where I looked, they are still full of bullet holes! In relation to what the man was asking me, should I be walking around in fear? or disgust? or upset?  If you don't look up the buildings, a walk along the street is fairly it should.  That war ended 15 years ago.  People busily getting to work, shops are open, lovely restaurant we eat.. all good!  But there are lots of scars on the same buildings from the war.. A reminder that is really in your face as you look up.  (some of the longer distance photos you might need to click on and enlarge to see the amount of bullet holes)

Imagine being in your apartment or office, and being shot at... for 3 or 4 years straight, living in constant fear!  On average they lost around 10 people per day, with many many more wounded.  Even today, the city has thousands less people than it did before the war..

Here you can see the hills that surround the city..

After walking into a couple small camera shops, they both recommended I try a place in the commercial center mall to get my new SD card.  And here it is!  Modern shopping mall...A breath of fresh air..

Very good looking building, and all the normal chain stores inside as you'd see anywhere..  I found the little camera shop and got my 32 GB SD card.. yay!  Also had a bit of a wander around inside.  It's been a long time since I had seen a normal shopping center.. oops, but poor Josip is still waiting on the sidewalk outside.  Darn, gotta go! ;-)

A little bit chaotic for maneuvering the streets of Sarajevo..

Friendly soldier still posted on the corner in the photo below.

Plenty of public transport..

We are so squeezed in here.. and I notice this very old building survived the war, but still has it's bullet hole "scars"..

Josip explains to me more about Sarajevo.  In a nutshell, Sarajevo got hit the worst during the Bosnian War.

"In March 1992, Bosnia-Hercegovina declared its independence from the former Yugoslav federation. The Serbs who lived in this ethnically diverse area feared the idea of being controlled by the Muslim Slavs who formed the majority of the population. "

He told me this capital city is completely surrounded by hills as we saw riding in to town, which allowed the stronger Serb forces to block and siege everyone inside.  The people had no way of getting supplies from 1992 to 1996, and because of this, they were starving if not shot.  He remembers the trees had little wood left as they were cut along with household furniture to burn for heat in the winter.  It's interesting to hear these stories from a Croatian man who also had his own role to play during the war.  Anyway, click on the link called "Siege of Sarajevo" in Wikipedia to learn more.. it's sad and fascinating, especially from a view point of actually being there now.

"All roads leading in and out of Sarajevo were blockaded, and the airport was shut down. Approximately 400,000 residents were trapped in the siege, and they were cut off from food, medicine, water, and supplies of electricity. Thousands of civilians were killed and wounded, and every imaginable offense against human rights was committed ranging from ethnic cleansing and rape, to mass executions and starvation. Residents came very close to complete starvation, and their only chance for survival weighed in the balance on the success of UN airlifts from the Sarajevo airport that was opened in late June of 1992." 

Sarajevo is an absolutely fascinating place to visit.  I am so glad to have come here, and see it for myself. I'm sorry to have to leave so soon.. again! But, we must make a move on the bikes as we still have many kilometers to ride today to meet our schedule.. ugh! ;-(

I must say that Bosnia overall is a beautiful country.  Because I know so little about the country, other than the recent war history, my brain just links war with dark and dreary.. but it's absolutely not!!  It's gorgeous!!

We pass a very common site for me though.. these ladies selling honey along side the road, remind me exactly of the women and their stands in Russia.

I so much want to stop and buy honey, one of my favorite foods on the planet!  Have not even attempted to figure out a way to carry a large jar of honey on my motorcycle.  I should build a special compartment just for that!  Oooo, how good would that be.. justified by helping to support the local economy, yes?? ;-)  I can stop anytime I want and dip my spoon into the jar.. ;-))))  Darn, I hear every biker out there saying I'm crazy to add that weight.. to my bike and myself.

Josip knows these roads well, and we stop at his favorite lunch place.. even though I am still completely full from the large breakfast in Sarajevo.  I also must justify this as part of my Bosnian experience, right?  In general on my own, I don't eat much of any breakfast as I don't like the feeling of being full on the road.  Same for lunch, just as well I only have an apple or snack for the same reason, but I make up for it at dinner time!!

Anyway, this is a special treat and I get to have a look at the little outhouse where this divine bread with different fillings is made.

Most of the choices included meat, but I picked the one with cheese only.

Now we are heading to Mostar, a very popular town in Bosnia.  I have been told by several people that I am not to miss this place.. supposed to be really special.

We pull in to Mostar, and I see the buidings, lots of bullet holes again, this one totally destroyed, and I am wondering why the people seem to love this place!.

 Here's another building full of bullet holes..

We pull down an alley, Josip knows where he is going, and we park outside this bar.. He likes parking here as do the others as it's a safe open place the owner allows us to park for free and he watches over the bikes.. we can have a look around town and come back for a drink on the way out.. however, it's so posh compared to the buildings we have been passing so far!

We go for a walk and come across the highlight, the Mostar Bridge.

The bridge is a star attraction due to it's full history, both ancient and modern.   It was actually built during the Turkish Ottoman Empire in the 1500's.  At the time, it was quite an architectual achievement for the Ottoman controlled Balkans to have this sloping style bridge.  (Sherri Jo is on that bridge if you can spot her!)

Much later, during the 1990's Bosnia war, with a still ethnically divided town of Croat Forces on one side and Bosnia i Herzegovinan's on the other, the Croatian Defence council actually destroyed their own bridge.  This is a nation full of diversity and if you remember from a much earlier Croatian post with Josip's group in March 2011, the guys explained to me then how important to point out we were in Herzegovina territory when I visited Medjugorge, Bosnia.  Even though Herzegovina has no border or government, it is their culture and they work hard at keeping it recognized.

Long story short, after the war the bridge became part of UNESCO, and the funds were provided for it to be rebuilt using the original limestone bricks that had fallen into the river below.

Mostar is popular because it is a place you can still see destruction on a massive scale. Of coarse with tourism now, people are fixing up their buidings.. but there are plenty of reminders.

Speaking of tourists,  I still get really ancy amongst the crowds. I just had a quick look, made a suggestion to my friend to turn back to the bikes.. please!  (not to discount the importance of the old buildings, but I don't need to shop for souvenirs anyway).

Whew!  Back on the road again, busy day!

Oops!  Josip spots another road side stand and we stop again.. This time it's for wild asaparagus! He bought a massive amount from this lady, she also was thrilled to pieces.

Then we ride into a small town called Livno, and meet up with biker friends at the bar.  Here Josip has an opportunity to cook up his asparagus, with eggs and prosciutto, which was really nice. He fed all the guys there too. Lucky me to travel with quite a chef!

It was a really really big day in Bosnia.. and a good meal.. Next morning off and running again to finish our ride through Bosnia as I am now heading to Croatia..

But have a look, the houses in the country heading north are as sprayed with bullets as any city..  Actually most of the houses here are still abandoned.  You see a few houses that have been re-rendered, but not likely from the original inhabitants.  Josip tells me what is most upsetting about this war was that the different belief systems came from your actual neighbor, not from another country.. So the people you used to wave at on the road, or shared garden vegetables, are the ones who are now shooting at you!~!~  I find hard to comprehend..

Some communities that are rebuilding here are Muslim Slavs, and here is new mosque.

If I could go back to the man at dinner and tell him after my ride through Bosnia, and what I took away from was definitely a good experience, for many reasons.  I got to spend time with locals, see the beautiful country, experience a new Sarajevo, witness amazing people who have lived through the war and experience their kindness..taste their super yummy food.  It doesn't matter who I seemed to talk to about the war, the conclusion from them whether a Serbian, Bosnian, or Croatian, is always the same.  They tell me, "It was a stupid war, it should have never happened". 

From my one very short experience, I really like this country. Even though being here is quite surreal to me, being so fresh in war history.  I'm sorry for the people and their hardships, and I hope they all have recovered well.....wherever they may be...
Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. Wow, this post must have taken you hours to write. I enjoyed all of it immensely. I think the rude man in the restaurant was just trying to test you. To see if you, as a woman, had the mettle to stand up to him. And you did. Politely, too, or so it seems. Love all the pics. What a diverse place! Like you, I would have been fascinated with all those bullet homes. I cannot imagine living through something like that! I sure am glad you visited and shared it with us.

  2. Thanks Toadmama.. I feel it's an honor to have a life that allows me this freedom to travel the world.. Bosnia really is a good destination and hope I get to go back and explore even more of it someday ;-)

  3. Amazing post Sherri. This country and its people have such a history, part of it so recent...Very close to Greece, I would love to visit it one day...Thanks for sharing all these my friend!