Travels in Bosnia-Herzegovina

We spent the most delightful – and surprising – six days in Bosnia. What a beautiful country! My absolute favourite by far.

A land full of richly forested mountains and turquoise green rivers. Crisp clean air and crystal clear water. Full of rich culture and old history – where mosques, cathedrals and synogogues sit side-by-side and harmony appears to reign in every aspect of society.

It’s also a country still broken and damaged by a war that ended just 23 years ago. A war where politicians played out their prejudices, greed and fears, at the cost of innocent lives. A land where ethnic cleansing and genocide became a part of their national story, and a once-united country is starting to see cracks and division as those in charge increase their power by spreading fear and bigotry.

The small old city of Sarajevo where we spent five serene nights, is full of historic buildings with beautiful Georgian architecture, displaying the brutal wounds of gunfire and shelling from two decades prior. Much of the city is graffitied and dirty as post-war economic devastation still remains, and a third of the population are unemployed. The busy streets are a kalediscope of cultures, with nuns, muslims, westerners, arabs, and people from every ethnic and religious background wandering the streets, ordering thick bosnian coffees, decadent icecreams, or the local must-try dish, cevapi.

Our days in Sarajevo were spent slowly meandering around the city, enjoying the lively atmosphere and photographing every building we saw. We stood on the spot where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, leading to the beginning of world war one. We visited sites from the 1984 Winter Olympics – destroyed by Serbian forces just six years later for no other reason than destruction on a grand scale.

The Bosnian people we met were kind and gentle and passionate about the beauty of their country. Not just the geographical beauty, but pride in their long history of muslims, christians and jews living peacefully together. Inter-denominational marriages are common and tolerance abounds.

The Bosnian people working in the stores we visited missed the course on customer service. For the most part, store keepers seem to ignore customers and make little eye contact. But if a conversation starts, faces light up and their lovely gentle spirits shine through.

We were fortunate to do a small group tour to Mostar and some of the key sights in Herzegovina. If only we’d known in advance how beautiful the scenery was going to be – we would have loved to take the train through the picturesque valleys from Sarajevo to Mostar. I cannot imagine a more beautiful vista anywhere in the world.

We swam in the cool depths of the Kravice waterfalls, climbed to the top of an Ottoman era fortress in Pocitelj, had lunch by a Dervish monastery listening to the source of the river Buna in Blagaj, saw the bridge Tito ordered destroyed in Jablanica after bringing wounded soldiers back and wanting to prevent German soldiers gaining further ground, then spent several hours exploring the restored cobblestone paths of Mostar by the famous UNESCO protected Old Bridge – rebuilt after being destroyed by the Serbian army.

We spent a solemn morning visiting exhibits and hearing personal stories, at The Crimes Against Humanity & Genocide Museum. It’s not an easy way to spend a morning, but I feel it’s important to honour and respect those impacted by the war. The incredible ability for soldiers during times of war to dehumanise men, women and children – their former countrymen and neighbours – is beyond my comprehension. And I hope never to comprehend how it can happen. That we now see the same atrocities happening in Syria is gut-wrenching. How quickly the world forgets. How easy it is to forget genuine tragedies are behind the stories and headlines we read.

Bosnia was an incongruous mix of beauty, history, multiculturalism and harmony, with confronting scenes of the brutality of mankind, political machinations masquerading as religious righteousness, and generational fears of post-war trauma. I have felt utter peace in the beauty of the country, abject sorrow at the suffering, and intense gratitude to those who shared their love and stories of an amazing country.

Visiting Bosnia has been the highlight of our trip so far. Not just for the sheer joy of having a washing machine, or a waterfront apartment cheaper per night than a pair of shoes, or the bliss of daytime temperatures staying under 30c, but for the privilege of witnessing firsthand the affects of a war previously only seen on television (aka, somewhere else), meeting a beautiful and eclectic bunch of people, and traveling through some of the prettiest valleys I’ve ever seen in my life. Hvala ti, Bosnia. Until next time.

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