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A long trip through Bosnia, visiting Mostar and Sarajevo

Friday 07 September, a long trip through Bosnia, visiting Mostar and Sarajevo

Today we are going to make a trip through Bosnia. We are very curious about this area that we know so well from the news but about which we can find very little in travel guides. There have already been many Dutch people, mainly Dutchbat soldiers, but we would also like to experience for ourselves how it is now. The navigation does not work here and the maps we have with us are contradictory: different names for places and also the kilometers do not match. In retrospect, we have chosen the wrong route, but we do not know that when we start of. First we drive north to Croatia to refuel gas because that would not be available in Bosnia. We have been traveling for almost 2 hours before we arrive at the Bosnia-Hercegovina border in Metkovic where it is a chaos of cars and trucks. Yet we cross the border within half an hour and Elisabeth is especially disappointed because we have not received a stamp in our passport. And what do we see pretty soon after the border: a gas station with LPG! During the day we see a lot more LPG stations than you encounter in Germany for example.
In Neum, the small part of the coast that Bosnia owns along the Adriatic coast, we have already got some Bosnian money because we have no idea whether that is also possible in the interior.
Minaret in Pocitelj, Bosnia Castle at PociteljSoon we are in an increasingly mountainous and especially beautiful area. But what strikes us most are the kamikaze motorists; give them a continuous line (forbidden to overtake) and a bumpy turn and you're sure someone will try to pass another car! While we try to enjoy the view and respect the way many monuments have been rebuilt, we are overtaken right and left by motorists who apparently have no fear of their own death, or of others.
At first we think that it will all be young lads who drive like that, but if we pay more attention they all seem to be 40, 50 years old men drive like madmen over the two-lane road and take over whether it is allowed or not. And where it is very dangerous. I can not remember being in a country where I had to pay more attention to fellow (counter) road users like in Bosnia! Would it be a kind of post-war tragedy that would give these drivers little respect for life? That you just have to take risks for your own interests? An interesting case for psychologists! Fact is that in the former states of Yugoslavia traffic is more dangerous than we are used to. Even in North Africa, where traffic is much more chaotic, it feels much safer. There you can manage with one rule: only pay attention to the traffic in front of you, traffic behind you have to take care of themselves. But here you really have to pay attention to everything because the oncoming traffic likes to take on the challenge of overtaking especially in curves and consequently ending up on your side of the road.
Memories of the war, Mostar Memories of the war, MostarJust before noon we arrive in Mostar, a city where we would love to see the restored old bridge. But first we are confronted extensively with the many heavily damaged buildings, full of bullet holes. The more we read about this last war, the more we realize that no party in this conflict was innocent. Servians, Bosniars, Croats, Montegrenines, those who were in politics or in the army, all are guilty of mass murders and senseless violence.
Memories of the war, MostarWe drive a long time to find the old bridge and we see more and more traces of the war and the more we see it, the less we understand it. How is it possible that neighbors who have always lived together peacefully can suddenly turn to so hateful. Indoctrination through the media, responding to nationalist feelings, instilling fear, it must have been something like that. But still every individual is responsible for his / her own actions and how can violence ever solve something against someone else? In Mostar there is still so much violence to see that we understand that it will take a lot of time before people in this region can ever forgive each other. But can they also look at themselves and forgive themselves? But of course the vast majority of people have just been victims of relatively small groups that have fought each other. But they have forced others to choose sides and so there is a lot of hatred that still hangs in the air.
Mosque at MostarAfter a while driving around we find a place near the old city and when we walk there we are approached friendly, even in Dutch! The old town is full of churches and mosques and we had read that almost all of them had been destroyed during the last war. Apparently they are all rebuilt. The old town still looks like it was built hundreds of years ago with cobblestones and old buildings. There are many coffee bars and restaurants and we are amazed at the large number of tourists that walk around here.
The restored old bridge, MostarThe old bridge from the 16th century (Stari Most where also the name Mostar comes from) was a symbol for the mulicultural society in Bosnia, a bridge between east and west, between Christians and Muslims. In 1993, this bridge was destroyed by Bosnian Croats in Mostar. In the meantime, the bridge has been rebuilt with a lot of foreign (including Turkish and Dutch) support, but as much as possible with old stones from the bridge that you can still find in the river.
Neretva river, Mostar Neretva river, MostarWe have already been to more historical places but here the violent past is still tangible and we notice that everyone is lost in thought and that this is more than a tourist attraction. This is a monument with a history that has something to tell us. We are in any case deeply impressed and hope that the reconstruction of the bridge also helps to bridge the gaps between the different population groups in the city.
Fortified tower of the old bridge, MostarThe two towers on both sides of the bridge have also been rebuilt and the entire city center is once again attracting tourists. We heartily hope the residents can build an existence in this way and buy a souvenir here and there. We do not have any documentation with us about Bosnia, but now that we are here we only start to understand the situation. That it is complicated!
Mostar, old town Lunch near the Stari Most (old bridge)First we look for a terrace along the Neretva, near the bridge, for lunch. For a few Bosnian Mark we have a great lunch with a nice view. The people are charming and speak English, German and again a word of Dutch. It is busy but the waiter takes all the time for a chat about the past and says that the relationship between the residents is as it always was (good) now the war has ended and that those who have caused the suffering were mainly fanatical outsiders.
Mosques in Mostar The old center of MostarThen we take a short walk through the old town and we are very impressed with the repair work. After the Dayton treaty in 1995, the Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina was divided into two parts: the Muslim-Croat federation and the Serbian republic of Srpska. In addition, there is also a third district, Brcko, which belongs to both entities. And we thought that Bosnia-Hercegovina is one state!
Mosque outside MostarIt is already well after noon when we leave Mostar and we actually also want to go to Sarajevo. That is more than 120 kilometers from here and then the way back of approximately 200 kilometers. A whole ride, but we think it can be done. Again, our two maps of this area do not agree on the number of kilometers, but we bet that the truth will be somewhere in the middle.
Mountains at Konjic Village in the mountainsDespite the many maniacal road pirates we can also enjoy the mountain landscape on the winding road that is pretty good in itself. But there are still traces of war to be found everywhere, devastated villages, destroyed houses, but also the signs of the recovery can be found everywhere: new houses, mosques and churches.
Suburb of Sarajevo Center of SarajevoWhen we arrive at Sarajevo at 4 o'clock we are quickly in a traffic jam on the six-lane highway that leads the city. We drive at a snail's pace and the center does not seem to come into view. The city lies in a valley surrounded by a number of peaks from where the Servians carried out their attacks on the city, but what we now notice most is the old communist style in which the outlying suburbs are built, tower blocks (often still visible with the bullet holes) and ugly new construction.
Sarajevo is, of course, known as the place where the arch leader Frans Ferdinand was shot in 1914, which meant the beginning of the First World War. But later it became the most important city after Belgrade of the Republic of Yugoslavia; and nearly half a million people lived there. And later we read that in 1999 Sarajevo was given the honor that, according to the UN, the 6 billionth citizen of the world was born, a symbolic gesture to indicate that Sarajevo was in a hopeful recovery.
Traffic sign in Cyrillian (Srpska)In the meantime we are in a traffic jam and after an hour we turn around, we have not seen a beautiful city center and we regret that we drove here. We could have visited a few smaller cities better. But when we drive out of the city to the east (the congestion problem in the Randstad in the Netherlands is nothing compared to this!), we suddenly see all kinds of traffic signs with Cyrillic script, call it Russian letters. At first it is still bilingual, but not for long.
Fortunately, I once studied Russian for a couple of months, but I must do my best to translate the letters quickly. In the meantime the sky gets darker and we start to rush a bit more, no more time for stops or photos. And did we not read on the website of the ministry of foreign affairs that you do not have to drive through the mountains of Bosnia in the dark? We are now in the Serbian republic of Sprska, but only now we realize that Bosnia also has a Serbian section where the Cyrillic script is used. Our first reaction was: the Bosniars will have abolished the Serbian way of writing immediately after the war! Now we only begin to realize how fragile the Bosnian state is, with 3 different peoples (Croats, Bosnians and Servians) in 1 country. Personally we think that it should not matter, after all they are all Slavian people (sounds better than 'Slaves'), but here, of course, that is a very sensitive thing with all ethnic cleansing in the past. Not many people have heard of world citizens here, for many the ethnical background even goes for nationality.
But we are working on our journey back via another road and with traffic signs that we can just decipher. The roads in this part of Bosnia are much worse and we do not make progress at all. After we have passed Foca it quickly darkens and we come again in a mountainous area with many winding roads. Fortunately, at a certain moment we get a car before us that we can follow more than 150 kilometers with a proper distance. The hours go by and it gets completely dark and occasionally we have miles of diversions where the road suddenly becomes a dirt road. In the air there are 2 bright lights that I focus on while driving, probably Venus and Mercury just below. As long as we go that way we drive to the south. But we regularly wonder if we are not lost.
If our vehicle in front finally turns into a city, we think we are almost at the border, but the opposite is true. We are completely exhausted from this long day. We study ther maps again and we think we still have 40 kilometers to go to the border, alone through the mountains in the dark. And then, unexpectedly, we are suddenly faced with a barrier. But there is no one to see when we stop the car. After a while I get out and go exploring, because there must be someone there. What if they close the borders totally at night? Then we are stuck here. Fortunately a customs officer comes out who apologizes for the fact that he was having his dinner. After a quick look on our passports we can drive on. And to our surprise we are back at our tent within 10 minutes! If we had known that a border crossing was so close we would have planned a completely different route! Bad preparation on our side.
Today we have driven 580 kilometers and we have been on the road for almost 15 hours and we are happy that we have been able to explore a small part of Bosnia. But we could have been better prepared with a lot less mileage. Totally exhausted we drag ourselves into the cold bed and fall asleep very quickly. But in peace, so we have nothing to complain, something that many residents here have experienced differently for years. But we hope never have to make a trip like the last few hours in the car, that was no fun at all.


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