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Trip Report Off The Beaten Track in Bosnia and Herzegovina - julia_t explores

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I have just returned from a whirlwind 4-day road trip along some of the back roads of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It has been an amazing experience. My mind is dizzy with a myriad of images, impressions and memories of sights seen that are all tumbling about like a kaleidoscope at the moment!

I have had a brilliant time, though I can’t say I’ve enjoyed every single minute as there have been some pretty scary moments, and some downright terrifying. It has been a real challenge driving on some of the mountain roads, but the scenery has been spectacular, absolutely stunning, and I’m so glad I did it.

When things have settled down I will fill in more detail about this breathtakingly beautiful country, and one that is one of the few undiscovered tourist destinations in Europe.

Bosnia and Herzegovina – as the name suggests – is a country made up of two regions, separated by the Dinaric Alps, with Bosnia to the north and Herzegovina to the south. They each have their own unique cultural histories but share many similarities in language, ethnicity, culture and identity. Even more confusing is the fact that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a single country consisting of two entities, one of which is The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the other is the Republic of Srpska. And each of these entities includes part of Bosnia and part of Herzegovina!

I plan when referring to the entire country to call it by the abbreviation of BiH, but will refer to each region individually. It is not all Bosnia, and the Herzegovinians rightly feel excluded when their region is not acknowledged.

For example – Mostar is in Herzegovina. So those of you who have visited Mostar, sorry to tell you this, but you’ve not actually been to Bosnia! Same applies to Neum on the coast and Trebinje in the south.

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    A bit of background.
    I am British, a 53yo solo female traveller. I am generally quite confident and I try to just get on with things that are thrown my way. I have wanted to visit Sarajevo for some time now and started to research it about 3 or 4 years ago.
    I did visit Mostar for 24 hours in October 2007 and loved it. And I have been to Dubrovnik and the Dalmatian coast 3 times in recent years. I've driven from Split to Mostar, Dubrovnik, along and over the Peljesac peninsular and back up to Split.

    Being British I always drive on the left so it is always a challenge for me driving in continental Europe, on what is the wrong side for me. And I tend to suffer from vertigo!

    Research.
    My main source was the Bradt Guide to Bosnia and Herzegovina – the only guide book available which covers the entire country.

    It was actually quite difficult to find out much about some of the places in rural Bosnia. The Bradt guide was very good, and the internet was a good tool. It is much easier to research Sarajevo as there is so much more information out there. I also used the Thomas Cook City Spots – Sarajevo (by Tim Clancy who also wrote the Bradt guide) and Fodors Eastern and Central Europe guide.

    I read the People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (about the journey of the Haggadah). I found it interesting but thought the contemporary storyline was somewhat contrived. I read – twice - the Cellist of Sarajevo by Stephen Galloway. I am currently reading a book I bought in Sarajevo called Black Soul, a novel of the Bosnian war and after, of ''one man’s journey from the battle-torn hills of Sarajevo to the bustling, windblown streets of Chicago'' by Ahmet M Rahmanovic. It has only recently been published in the US, but I do recommend it if you are coming to Sarajevo.

    http://www.blacksoul.us/

    Films I’ve watched over the years have been the Oscar -winning No Man’s Land, Savior, Welcome to Sarajevo, A Shot Through The Heart. The last 3 are US films, but the Bosnian film Pretty Village Pretty Flame is immensely shocking. There was also a British TV drama series called Warriors, about the army’s role in Bosnia as UN peacekeepers based near Vitez, who were constrained by strict rules of engagement which made them powerless to stop ethnic cleansing and left many traumatised.

    These are the websites I found the most useful...

    http://www.bhtourism.ba/eng/

    http://www.sunshineworldbosnia.com/index.html (primarily a ski website but still quite a lot of info, especially on Sarajevo)

    http://www.discoverbosnia.com/

    http://www.balkanology.com/bosnia/index.html

    http://www.sonar.ba/discover.php?lang=en

    http://www.jeffreysguide.com/2009/06/sarajevo-no-longer-war-ravaged-spot-of.html

    http://www.hiddenbosnia.com/index_files/TravelBosnia.html

    …and of course TripAdvisor was a good place to find out things and Google was most helpful, leading me to websites like VirtualTourist where there were further snippets of info on some of the more remote places.


    Flights.
    There are no direct flights from the UK to Sarajevo. All involve a layover in Budapest, Frankfurt, somewhere, taking a minimum of 6 hours and usually more like 7 or 8 hours, and cost well over 200 GBP. They also go from London Heathrow or Gatwick.

    When I saw flights to Split from my local airport (Bristol) with Easyjet for 44 GBP (32GBP for the return flight) I pounced on them! This was back in October 09.

    I considered that the cost of the budget flight, plus car rental and fuel and then driving to Sarajevo would be around the same as flying there, would take around the same time, plus I would have the advantage of seeing so much more of the country and visiting other places – if I were brave enough. After mulling this over for several months, and considering alternatives I could do from Split, like Hvar, Vis, Zadar, I decided I could – and would! – drive to Sarajevo.


    Car Rental.
    I had used www.economycarrentals previously in Croatia and had no qualms about reserving with them again. I made my reservation in March and was charged a 20 euro deposit, and the balance was 109 euro (93 GBP). This was for 4 days and included the cross border card. They’d put me with Sixt according to the booking info but when I arrived at the Sixt desk I was sent outside to Last Minute Car Rentals. I was given an upgrade to an Astra GTC which was very whizzy but it was bigger than I’d wanted and I found it really quite difficult to see behind me when reversing and judging the distance at the front as well. When I returned the car all was well, but I saw from their price list that this Astra is normally twice the rental price of the little one I’d reserved!

    When I picked up the car there was ¼ tank of fuel in it. I filled it up before I left Split (320 kuna/43 euro) and added a further 80 kuna/11 euro’s worth before I dropped it back. In fact I didn’t really need to do that but just wanted to ensure I wasn’t going to be accused of not returning it with a complete ¼ tank and charged accordingly.

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    Driving, routes and roads.
    I bought the best map I could find – the Freytag & Berndt 1:600 000 (on amazon). I followed my planned routes on google earth to see if there were any truly terrifying parts. In fact I scanned these roads thoroughly several times, though I didn’t really look closely at the Sarajevo-Mostar road, assuming that because it was a major route it would be fine, but I found it was actually quite scary to drive in places, there was one especially twisting mountainous descent that had me all a-tremble!

    I planned to pass Split, head for Sinj then at Brnaze turn off to Trulj and the border crossing at Kamensko. Then on to Livno, Bugojno, Donji Vakuf and finally Travnik where I would be staying the first night.

    Setting off from Split was worrying to start with, heading up towards Sinj over viaducts and through tunnels. Did I mention I get vertigo? It’s always worse on bridges. Once on the quieter road to Trulj I began to relax as there were fewer cars. Signage was good as I headed to the border at Kamensko. The roads were good too, occasionally a little bumpy but generally OK with lots of solid-looking guardrails on the bends as the road climbed up and down. As I arrived at the border mine was the only car in sight. The guards scrutinised my passport and all the papers carefully before stamping my passport, I think they were a little surprised to see a lone Englishwoman there!

    Until Donji Vakuf there was virtually no traffic, I had the road mostly to myself which was lovely because I could potter along at my own pace and admire the gorgeous vistas and views which opened up around each curve of the road. I was able to pull over without any trouble to stop and take pictures. After Kamensko I drove past a lovely lake called Busko Jezero. The road climbed up and down but nothing too steep or scary. At the top of each ascent there would be the most spectacular view behind me, and then another ahead of me. Some valleys were steep, narrow and rocky, pretty much uninhabited, almost a moonscape, with maybe a few goats roaming about. There were few villages or houses around, and I noticed most were built alpine-style, with steep sloping roofs. Some were very nice, others half-built and empty, others also unfinished yet lived in. Then there were fabulous fertile valleys, so lush and green. This was further inland.

    After a while I passed by Suica and Malovan in the Milac river valley. This was a glorious wide green fertile valley, surrounded by towering mountains but here there were clear signs of war damage with lots of abandoned, derelict and deserted houses. There were also many small graveyards. There was one amazing memorial monument, just in the middle of nowhere. Something must have gone on here, and an internet search told me some of the most severe battles during the WWII in ex-Yugoslavia took place here. In the more recent conflict of the early 1990s Mt. Malovan found itself on the frontline, Here in this part of Herzegovina I only saw churches. It wasn’t until Porice in Bosnia that I saw the first mosque.

    Still in Herzegovina, I drove through Kupres which was a lovely looking place. This is a winter ski resort and I could see the lifts on the side of the mountains.

    http://www.adriaski.net/kupres.html

    Just outside Kupres there is a long tunnel through the mountain and this is the crossing from Herzegovina into Bosnia. The roads remained quiet as I drove on to and out of Bugojno. The roads twisted up and down through wonderful hills and valleys with streams and waterfalls. It was all so green and verdant. Still amazingly little traffic.

    Around here I stopped on the side of the road where there was a man selling cheese and tasted the 3 kinds he had. I bought some of the Livno hard cheese which was delicious. There was also some smoked cheese and a really salty sour soft cheese. I had no BiH currency at that time because you can’t get it in the UK, but I had kuna and euros. He spoke no English but made it clear he would prefer kuna. I nibbled on the hard local cheese as I drove on,

    I noticed grass was being cut, and formed into old-fashioned haystacks, piled around a wig-wam-like framework of sticks. Also along this part of my route there were lots of rainbow-coloured beehives, and many roadside stalls selling honey, the signs read ‘med’. There were also stalls selling cow hides and goatskins, pots and pans, and rugs. I find myself amazed by the patience of these people, sitting at the side of the road daily for 8, 10, 12 hours, just waiting for a little passing traffic to stop. Oh, and on very many houses there were rugs hung over balconies, porches and fences to air, or maybe dry after cleaning?

    Donji Vakuf was a busy town, and then I was on the main Zagreb-Sarajevo road and there was much more traffic. The road wound down again through deep wooded mountainsides and valleys. I stopped for an overnight stay in Travnik.

    On Day 2 I proceeded to Sarajevo stopping in Visoko. I got on a side road to get back to the main road, and this was narrow, bumpy, and it crossed the main Sarajevo-Zagreb railway line without any barriers – that was a heart in the mouth moment! I couldn’t see a train but there might have been one speeding along the line just seconds away, about to sweep me along and crush me… it’s one of my nightmares. Anyway, deep breath, foot down, plenty of revs and I got across OK! A few miles on I was back on a major highway which had toll booths built but not yet open. At one point I did have to stop at a toll point close to Sarajevo and was charged 1.5KM.

    Driving in Sarajevo was I suppose like driving in any city, coping with traffic and trams and pedestrians. Here the main road goes in one way alongside the river, turns by the National Library at the end of the Bascarsija and goes back in one direction on the other side. I had studied the maps well and sort of knew exactly where I was meant to be going and found it quite easily. The parking for my hotel was across the street in a 24hour guarded car park. The space allocated for me was quite tight and I had a little trouble parking, not helped by the fact that the attendant spoke absolutely no English! But I got parked up in the end with a bit of help from a very nice gentleman who needed to get his car out.

    Day 3 I stayed on foot in Sarajevo and didn’t drive at all!

    Day 4, on leaving Sarajevo I drove directly to Mostar along the main E73. This is the most fantastically scenic road, but there are so many curves and bends it is hard to really look and enjoy. I found this the most challenging and scary drive so far. I crept down the mountain very slowly in 3rd gear changing to 2nd on the bends! I must have driven other drivers nuts going so slowly as I was overtaken on many occasions! The views everywhere were stunning. There were quite a few places to pull over, but they all seemed to be on the other side and I was quite nervous about cutting across the oncoming traffic. Anyway, one photo of a mountain looks much like another after a while! After Konjic the road improved, and there were some gorgeous lakes by the side of the road, maybe it was a wide part of a river but it was beautiful.

    At Jablanica you pass from Bosnia to Herzegovina, and enter the valley of the Neretva river. This is the most incredible green colour, and winds its way through steep mountain valleys. You can see the train tracks along the side of the mountain, and it must be one of the most scenic railways in the world. Along the way there are stalls along the roadside selling spit-roasted lamb, quite a few had tour buses parked up and were therefore busy. It was only about noon and I wanted to get on to Mostar for lunch so I didn’t stop. There were cherry-sellers along the roadsides here as well.

    In Mostar I surprised myself by being able to find my way directly to the car park in the old town, just up from the Kriva Cuprija bridge. This brought back memories of my previous visit in October 2007 when fodorite Barb and I met up and stayed at the Kriva Cuprija Motel.

    From Mostar I had planned to drive to Siroki Brijeg, Kocerin and on to the border crossing near Imotski. Twice I drove round Mostar and could not find this road, I think I might have been on the wrong side of the town, as signage is not so good in this area. So I ended up on the main Dubrovnik road, thinking that I could either go all the way south to the coast and then drive up the Adriatic Highway back to Split which I’ve done in the past, or I could turn right at Capljina and cut across that way past Medjugorje. Undecided I continued south.

    So, I’m driving down this main road, and I see one of those brown tourist-attraction signs to Medjugorje. A bus is coming out, so I think that even though this is a white (meaning very minor) road on my map this will be OK and I turn off the main road.

    Oh dear! Bad decision! The road soon narrows, still wide enough for 2 cars to pass but only just and it starts to climb, up and up and round and round and up and round and up and round again and the bends get tighter – and it goes on like this. For what seems like miles and miles. It probably really was a good few miles! The only guard rail is very low and rusty and broken in places and I am seriously scared. Frankly I was terrified and I don’t mind admitting it. My hands are sweating and clinging so tight to the wheel, but they are slipping, my feet have that vertigo-induced tingling sensation, I am hunched forward over the wheel as far away from the edge as I can get!
    I felt sick, I wanted to stop but knew that I could never drive back down that mountain even if I could turn round, because that would be even worse, so I carried on. I was overtaken at times, and another bus came down, squeezing me over to the edge though thankfully at that point I was on the inside of the mountain. I prayed the entire drive up, I prayed to my guardian angel and all the other angels constantly to watch over me, and I remembered to thank them each time I successfully negotiated a particularly tricky piece of road before I asked them again to keep me safe on the next bend.

    At last I emerged on to a wide plateau and the road was flat and straight. But then I started to think OMG, what goes up must come down! Anyway, this was a highly cultivated area, masses of vineyards and vegetable crops planted. Here the cut grass was baled not stacked. This is one of the main wine-growing regions of Herzegovina.

    I came to Citluk and took the road to Medjugorje thinking I might stop there, but there were so many tour buses and cars and people it was going to be impossible and it was already 3.30 so I continued on to Ljubuski. Shortly after I had the option of crossing back into Croatia at Vrgorac, but a quick look at the map showed me this was a white road – ie a very minor road, and I knew that at some point this would have to descend to the coast. After my earlier terrifying experience I decided to stay on the yellow road which at least was a bit of a better road and hopefully a bit safer. Continuing on, the houses were more of the villa-style now, and this seemed like quite a prosperous area. In the villages there were stalls selling flowers, like geraniums and petunias and planted hanging baskets. Mostly I had seen gardens filled with vegetables and very few flowers. This was a really pleasant part of the drive. The town of Grude was attractive too. The border crossing was easy and I was just waved through, then the road started to climb up again, twisting and turning and I got all scared again as there was a lot of traffic hurtling toward me and I was on the outside and didn’t like to get too close to the guard rail even though this looked quite strong and secure. I could tell there was the most incredible view behind me of this green valley and mountains surrounding it but I didn’t dare take a look! I just got occasional glimpses in the mirrors and when I went round bends. I couldn’t believe we were still going higher! Then I came to the town of Imotski, and the road started to slope quite gently down, though fairly straight now.

    I decided at Cisto Provo to turn left towards the coast and get on the new A1 at Sestanovac. Here the road wound down steeply, but the surfacing was good and the guard rails were new and nice and high! This was no problem for me.

    I took a toll ticket before getting on the A1 and then it was 130km up to Split. This new road is 2 lanes, with lots of tunnels. Some of these have speed limits, and I noticed some had signs outside them featuring what looked like bears and wolves. Afterwards I wondered if these were warning signs – beware of bears and wolves! The road does cut along the sides of the coastal mountains so I suppose it is always possible? After paying my toll of 14 kuna at Split, I made my way to Trogir where I was spending the night.

    Next - Travnik, Blue Water and an ancient fortress

    Driving times.
    The drive from Split Airport near Trogir to Travnik took me 3 ½ hours including a couple of short stops.
    I was in Sarajevo about 4 hours after leaving Travnik, going via Visoko where I stopped for a good couple of hours.
    Sarajevo to Mostar was 2 ½ hours, mostly because I drove so slowly coming down those mountains!
    My route from Mostar to the border at Grude/Imotski was a bit of a long way round, but I got into Trogir 4 ¼ hours after leaving Mostar, including a couple of stops. Another time I would definitely try to find the shorter route that I initially planned but couldn’t find.
    When I drove from Trogir to Mostar previously along the Adriatic Highway as far as Metkovic and then up the E73 to Mostar it took me around 3 ½ hours, so this really wasn’t that much more.

    I forgot to check the mileage (in kilometres of course!) when I handed back the car, but I used a full tank of petrol so I’d guess about 350 miles based on the fact that my car at home is a similar size and averages 400 miles to a tank, and that I did drive a fair amount using low gears.

    So as for my original question as to whether travelling to Sarajevo by plane only from a London airport as opposed to flying to Split from a local airport and then driving was a) cheaper and b) quicker, the answer is it cost about the same, just a little bit cheaper, and time taken was also about the same given that it is a 2 ¼ hour flight from Bristol to Split. But it was much more interesting doing it my way than sitting on planes and hanging around airport lounges. Much more fulfilling too.

    Incidentally, Continental Airlines fly from Newark to Bristol daily, which might be of interest if anyone wants to try a slightly different route to Croatia via Easyjet.

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    Great report, Julia! Hard not to get sweaty palms reading about your driving experiences, though!

    What did you think of Sarajevo? What was it like walking around? How would you compare it to other places you've visited? Were the people friendly? Indifferent? Did you see any UN presence or mostly locals?

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    Thank you so much for your trip report, julia....it was very concise and informative! We will be in Croatia and Slovenia for close to a month, and will also travel to B-H from Split through Kamensko, using much of the same route as you did. Your details will be of great help to us.

    Thanks again.

    Joy

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    Here is a batch of photos, I added descriptions but they seem to have got lost somewhere!

    Anyway, these pics are taken from when I crossed the border, driving through Herzegovina and then in Travnik.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/50700210@N06/sets/72157624172174278/detail/

    I'll post about Travnik later. Sarajevo will be posted too! It is still all a jumble in my head, I saw and did a lot, and I didn't write enough down in my notebook so I need a bit of time to remember it all.

    Thank you all for your kind comments.

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    TRAVNIK

    Travnik was once the home of the Ottoman rulers of Bosnia and was an ancient trading place in medieval times with the carsija (market) filled with traders from Dubrovnik, Serbia and other Ottoman territories. During the 16th-19th centuries it was know as the European Istanbul. The Old Town and the fortress dominate the town. There are many mosques. It is a very picturesque place, and there are some incredible views from the fortress.

    There is very little accommodation in Travnik, and due to some issues with my foot and ankle I decided to stay at the Motel Aba which is right in the Old Town and very close to most of the main sights. It has parking spaces.

    http://www.aba.ba/abaJ/index.php?lang=english

    I reserved a single room by email for the grand price of 15 euros, breakfast included. On arrival I was shown into a fairly large room with two beds and a strange bulky chair which was obviously a further bed. The bathroom was small but adequate, but everything was a bit tired and shabby though clean. I had a room at the back of the building so there wasn't too much noise from the main road. The window looked onto another building, but to the side there was a view directly up to the fortress which was nice to have. It is true you get what you pay for, but all other options seemed to be out of the town, or at least much further out. Anyway this was fine as I’m not too fussy and I’ve stayed in worse rooms for much more money, for example a room like this would cost around 80 euros in Paris.

    I freshened up and went out to see the Plava Voda – meaning Blue Water. This is a fast-flowing stream that tumbles down through the town, and the water really is a wonderful shade of turquoise blue, which doesn’t really come across in my pictures. This was a busy area with two restaurants on each side of the water. They were all called Restaurant Plava Voda but all had different coloured tablecloths and seemed to have different menus too. Many people were walking around, having coffee, it seemed to be quite a social thing, maybe a bit like the passiegata in Italy. I heard no one else speaking English at all in my entire time in Travnik, and there were very few other people who looked like they might have been tourists, ie with cameras!

    At this time I had no BiH currency, the Convertible Mark – KM – but had been assured that the euro is an acceptable currency due to an agreement whereby there is a two-currency system. The euro to KM rate is fixed at approximately 1 euro = 2 KM. I had asked at the hotel if there was a ‘bankomat’ nearby and was told I could only get money from it when the bank was open. Seemed strange to me but the receptionist told me not to bother until tomorrow.

    I sat down at one restaurant under the weeping willow trees ready to order cevapcici, the little meaty sausages, but then discovered they did not sell alcohol. I was more than ready for some wine by now! So I crossed the stream and sat on the other side where alcohol was served. Apart from a full 75cl bottle which I did not want, the wine only came in little 20cl bottles – just like at the Buza Bar in Dubrovnik!

    I had my order of 10 pieces of cevapi which came with that lovely soft bread and kajmak (soft cheese) and a shopska salad and 2 little bottles of Grasevina. The bill was 18.50 KM, but 10 euros was enough including a tip. I wandered around a bit, eating a lemon ice which I bought for .50KM from a little shop. Then I returned to the hotel.

    My room was 101 and on the first floor close to the top of the stairs. This meant I found it quite noisy, with the sound of people’s voices echoing up the stairwell from the reception area, but I didn’t realise this until later that night! The bed was comfortable with quite a firm mattress, and I slept fairly well until around 4am when the call to prayer started from the nearby mosque and the dawn chorus was in full swing. So many very noisy little birds!

    Breakfast was a disappointingly dry roll and soft cheese. There were also jams, fruit conserves and cold meats, which I didn’t fancy.

    I paid and checked out, telling them I’d be back to collect my car later. It was shortly before 8am. I walked about 100m across the main road into the main part of town, where I found a bank open and the cashpoint worked just fine. I daresay it would have worked last night as well. I saw the Sarena or Coloured Mosque which was lovely in the early morning sun with its beautiful fruit and flower paintings on the walls. It is considered by some to be the loveliest mosque in the Balkans. The amazing carved wood doors were open, so I removed my shoes, pulled my scarf over my head and went in for a look round, you can see it in my photos.

    I decided to proceed up to the fortress. It is quite a steep hike, but it’s not far. There are some fascinating houses along the way as well, of many different architectural styles. At the fortress there were a few workmen doing restoration work, and a woman who welcomed me in for the admission fee of 2KM (1 euro).

    My goodness, the views from up here were spectacular! There is a museum in the tower with quite a few artefacts, costumes, weapons. There is no signage in English so it was a bit difficult to know what some of the items were, and the woman overseeing the museum didn’t speak English. However, upstairs in the tower the walls are lined with photos and posters of the history of the town and area from Neolithic times up to the present day, and here there are laminated sheets with an English translation.

    There was another room with a mosaic and some carved tombstones, and outside the tower but still within the walls is a sort of amphitheatre with what looks like a stage below. It was all delightful and I spent about an hour up at the fortress. Wandering back down I went to look at the Plava Voda again, but by now there were 3 busloads of schoolchildren screeching around, and I didn’t stay long before getting into my car and setting off towards Sarajevo.

    More about Travnik here…

    http://www.bhtourism.ba/eng/travnik.wbsp

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    I'm really enjoying this. Thank you. I travelled through BiH in 2008 but by train from Zagreb and bus to Dubrovnik. Didn't get to the out-of-the-way places you saw. Also didn't have that scary drive.
    Looking forward to reading what you did in Sarajevo.

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    scatcat - I really enjoyed Sarajevo, and will get that part of my trip written later this week. I really packed a lot into my time there, so I hope you'll find some of it interesting and useful for planning your visit.

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    I wrote earlier that << I took a toll ticket before getting on the A1 and then it was 130km up to Split.>>

    I'd just like to point out that it was actually only about 40km to Split, but the speed limit was 130kph!

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    Julia, great report!! You are one brave woman to do all that on your own. I could feel your terror going up that mountain road. Loved the photos too. Brought back some great memories of our time together in Mostar. Looking forward to reading about Sarajevo.

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    Thank you all for your kind comments.

    Here is the next installment...


    VISOKO

    Now I heard about the ‘discovery’ of a pyramid in Bosnia some years ago. A Bosnian researcher and archaeologist, Semir Osmanagic, who is based in Houston and has worked extensively on the pyramids in Central and South America and Egypt, is convinced these are genuine pyramids. Apparently these hills are perfectly aligned as are other pyramids around the world, and the 3 main ones here form a perfect equilateral triangle with exactly 2150m between each summit. I was intrigued, if somewhat sceptical, but wouldn’t it be great if it were true?

    I could write a load of stuff about it all, but it is easier to just post the links…

    http://www.piramidasunca.ba/en/

    http://www.bosnianpyramid.com/

    When I realised I would be passing within a few miles of this interesting place, I decided I’d like to go and have a look

    I followed the signs to the Pyramid of the Sun, and the road climbed up, eventually leading to a parking place with a souvenir shop and a couple of cafes/bars. I was told ‘up, lots of steps, up’. So off I set, and started climbing the steep hillside. The steps were each faced with a plank of wood, with no rail to hold on to, and vanished into the wooded area towards the top. It was tough going, and my vertigo was lurking closely! Going up was OK, but I wondered how I might get down without a rail as going up you can’t see the drop, but going down you can. Oh well, I supposed I could always come down on my bottom! In photos I’d seen there was a road for vehicles right up close to the Pyramid so I though maybe I could go down that way.

    The staircase led into the trees, and continued up. Then the path disappeared. In front of me were some rectangular slabs of rock, sort of placed together to make a shallow ramp. Was this part of the Pyramid? I don’t know. Then I found another path with more steps and followed this. The there were more slabs in a steeper ramp – was this the causeway leading up that I’d read about? Whatever, I seemed to have come to a bit of a dead end.

    I stopped and decided to turn back. It was hot and I was getting weary. There were lots of lizards around in the sunny spots, and while I am not scared of snakes I was wearing sandals and didn’t particularly want to come across a snake on the path! I was the only person up there as far as I knew - I'd seen no-one else at all - and if I were bitten… Hmmm. But I had other reasons for turning back as well.

    Since I’ve been home I’ve had a chance to think about this, and there was something quite odd about it all up there. It was absolutely silent. In all those trees you would expect birdsong, but there was nothing. It was dead quiet. I had my camera with me, and didn’t take a single picture. OK, that doesn’t sound particularly strange, but my son is studying archaeology and when I told him about the Pyramids he asked me to take some pictures as he’d be interested. Yet something held me back. It just felt really creepy up there.

    On the way back down a small boy of about 7 or 8 was playing on the steps about half way up – or maybe it was half way down! Anyway he started to tell me about the Pyramids of the Sun, the Moon, the Dragon, the Earth and Love, and the tunnels that supposedly connect them all. He accompanied me down the rest of the steps which was great as I forgot all about vertigo, but I soon realised that the only English he knew was the names of the pyramids and the word tunnel! But he was very cute.

    Down at the car park area – only half-way down the whole hill, he ran off with some other boys, and I headed for a café for a cool drink. An orange Fanta at Restaurant Vidikovac was 1 euro. Interesting that I was asked to pay in euro – so this must be very much a tourist site.

    I did take a photo from here of the Pyramid of the Moon and one up the hill of the Sun Pyramid, but those were the only photos I took. To be honest, while the cut stone slabs could well have been part of a pyramid, while driving around I saw lots of pointy-topped hills all of which ‘might’ have been a pyramid.

    So I am still sceptical, but will await further results with interest. Incidentally a big national dig just started on 1st June, maybe there will be some genuine proof soon.

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    SARAJEVO

    The conflict of the 1990s is still remarkably recent, and fresh in many minds. I think it important for anyone visiting this part of the world to spend a few minutes remembering what happened and how these people and their country suffered. I won’t go as far as saying it will enhance your visit, but it certainly adds an extra dimension. There are lots of films out there, but here are just two…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SONUDsK3hfc&feature=fvw 2mins30

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KieH9Eh_rwM&feature=related 6mins

    I drove into Sarajevo along the main road into the city. This was known as Sniper Alley. It is 3-4 lanes on each side of the tram tracks. You can see up into the hills on either side of the road, so the road would have made an easy target to stop any vehicle trying to get into the town. On the valley floor between the road and the hills are many blocks of flats - apartment buildings. These were where the snipers lay in wait.

    Along this road is the National Museum in a beautiful Austro-Hungarian building, and next to it is a concrete and glass socialist-era building which houses the History Museum. Opposite is the yellow Holiday Inn where the journalists holed up. All these buildings took a battering but now they are completely restored.

    After a few kilometres the road joins the river Miljacka, which is spanned by many bridges. I was surprised it was so narrow. Somehow I had expected a wider river as in other European capital cities, like the Seine, the Thames, the Tiber, the Danube. Along the river are a real mix of architectural styles, with lovely Austro-Hungarian buildings interspaced with grim grey apartments blocks and a few more modern buildings.

    The road is one-way now, and by the National Library which is still under restoration and swathed in a protective mesh, it loops round the tip of the Bascarsija and back along in the other direction. At this juncture it is joined by the road to Tuzla.

    I knew that once I’d turned round the corner I would need to turn right across the tram tracks to find my hotel which was somewhere up on the right. I saw the signs at once and pulled in to a side road. Parking was across the street but I wasn’t sure where so I called the hotel and Fatima the receptionist (who was wonderfully helpful and spoke excellent English) came out to direct me. The guarded parking was indeed just across the street and while I had a bit of trouble squeezing my car into the space reserved for me, all was fine. I paid the attendant for the 2 days my car would be there – 15KM (7.50 euros) and went to check in.

    HOTEL SAFIR

    http://www.hotelsafir.ba/engleski/index.php

    This is in an old traditional Bosnian street called a ‘sokak’ which leads off a side street. The front is narrow, modern and glass-fronted. The door is kept locked most of the time so you have to ring the bell but there is someone on call 24hours. During the day this seemed to be Fatima who couldn’t have been more helpful.

    I had reserved a single room for 98KM (50 euros) a night. I was shown into 1A1 which was on the ground floor. It was a large light airy room with twin beds, wooden floor, a large bathroom and all was spotlessly clean. In the kitchen area there was a kettle, fridge with minibar, a 2-ring hob, a little sink. Also plates, glasses, cutlery, even a corkscrew! There was everything I needed; there was a hairdryer, paper slippers and a good reading light. My only complaint is that the towels were quite small. They were changed the second day, and ended up being even smaller!

    The hotel is less than 50m from the Sebili Fountain in the heart of the Bascarsija. I considered it an excellent location, and it was quiet at night too, yet I felt perfectly safe walking back to it in the dark. Yes, I would definitely stay there again, and recommend it highly. It is really good value for the price.

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    @Julia,
    With the impatience I am expecting new part of your travelogue. I am delighted with the description of Travnik. I recommend you to read "Bosnian Chronicle", a.k.a. "Travnik Chronicle", Nobel Prize winner Ivo Andric's novel:

    http://www.amazon.com/Bosnian-Chronicle-Novel-Ivo-Andric/dp/1559702362

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    Julia,

    I am enjoying every bit of your intrepid adventure - and it is intrepid - to places and regions rarely heard of on this forum.
    I admire your daring, your conscience and your sensitivity in the places and people you've met, and taking us all with you now, in recollection. Well done and looking forward to the rest.

    M.

    PS I visited Dubrovnik and Bosnia (Medugorje) in 2004 and felt much like you have described wrt the remnants of war now to be seen.

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    kostake...

    Welcome to Fodors. I have found your advice on tripadvisor most helpful in recent months, and hope you will be able to offer advice here too.

    Mathieu...

    Thank you. I am having difficulty sorting out my feelings about Sarajevo, so am just trying to keep to the facts of my visit.

    I found it quite emotional, seeing and being where so many innocent people lived in fear. Yet they have rebuilt the city and their lives, and I feel that the visible reminders are important for the rest of the world to know that it was not all right to stand by and let it happen, and that it must never happen again.

    More about the city soon!

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    I crossed the road over to the Sebili Fountain with a spring in my step. I was exhilarated to be here at last, after 4 years of planning. And a part of my exhilaration was that I didn’t have to get behind the wheel of a car for 2 days and could therefore relax! Oh, it was a blissful feeling!

    It was very crowded around here, and as I walked on down I realised I had left my map, guide book (the pocket-sized Thomas Cook City Spot – Sarajevo), and my printed pages of this, that and t’other, pages full of snippets of information I’d been storing up over the years about things I might want to see and do. Oh well, it didn’t really matter as I was headed towards the Tourist Information to get myself booked on a Tunnel Tour – something that was high on my list of places to see.

    I asked for directions at a bookshop called Connectum, where there was a nice café outside. It was here I bought the book Black Soul, and a lemonade – which was actually a lemon presse. With a couple of sachets of sugar it was a most refreshing drink – temperatures had been 27C on the car dial when I’d pulled into the car park. And it helped suppress hunger pangs as it was now after 2pm and I’d not eaten since that depressing breakfast in Travnik. Ana who served me spoke English well, and I found the TI office easily – but they were closed for another half hour! Time for lunch I thought. I passed lots of cafes – Sarajevo must surely be the centre of the café culture! But they were cafes for sitting and drinking coffee. Wandering along the main street, Ferhadija, I spotted a sign pointing off the street into a sort of courtyard (it looked quite Parisian really!) and was labelled (I think, I can’t read my notes!) something like Sedef of Seher – and the words Bosnian Kitchen. Well, it was the Bosnian Kitchen bit that pulled me in. There were 4 tables down this alleyway, I suppose more inside but I didn’t look. I sat down, ordered a Pleca Salate (Chicken Salad) for 5KM, tap water, and one of those little 20cl bottles of Grasevina. The salad was pleasant enough, though a little too much sweetcorn in it for my liking. I made sure I learnt the word for corn - kukuruz - so I could say ‘neh’ to kurkuruz in future! 10KM (5 euros) covered the entire meal.

    Back at the Tourist Office I was told there were tours to the Tunnel for 12 euros (24KM) daily at 11am and 2pm. I asked for the morning tour, my thinking being I planned to visit the National Museum the next day as well, and if it were hot in the afternoon I’d rather be indoors. But they told me the 11am tour probably wouldn’t take place as there have to be a minimum of 3 people, so I agreed to go on the 2pm tour, and they told me where to get the tour bus in a park across the river. I also got a map from them.

    I started walking along the river, and came to Despic House. This is a museum now, but originally the house belonged to a wealthy orthodox family named Despic. Apart from being a fascinating insight into how a wealthy Ottoman family would have lived, Despic House is an important historically due to the fact that the first theatre plays in Sarajevo took place here. It is considered to be a predecessor of modern theatre. Entrance was 2KM. It was very interesting, there is a copy of the last will and testament (drawn up on 29 March 1921) of Hatji Makso Despic, which is very moving, and reveals what a good man he must have been. It ends with the line ‘’These orders are only for me, but let them be a lesson to every living brother and friend of sound mind and common sense’’

    Next stop was the Latinska Cuprija, also know as the Princip Bridge. This is where the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia were shot by Gavrilo Princip on 28 June 1914, thus being a catalyst for WW1, which in turn led to WW2. It could also be said that the Cold War and later the Bosnian conflict were continuations of this. Therefore this is a truly historical spot. I must admit I felt a shiver down my spine standing here, thinking about the consequences of this one incident.

    I spent some more time just roaming in the Bascarsija, and I had a cup of tea (Black Tea-- with milk) at Morica Han. This is in the courtyard of an ancient coaching inn, the name means ‘castle of the caravans’. It is a very pleasant setting to have a drink or a meal.

    Then I returned to Hotel Safir to shower and rest a little before dinner. On the way I stopped at a Konzum supermarket and bought a bottle of Herzegovian wine and some savoury snacks.

    I’ve nearly finished labelling the Sarajevo photos, so will post them over the weekend, along with more about Sarajevo.

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    Thank you lincasanove, it's good to know you are enjoying all this. I though there might have been a bit too much detail.

    To complete my first day in Sarajevo, I crossed the river to Inat Kuca, also know as the Spite House. This is due to a story whereby the house was originally on the other side of the river. In 1862, when the Austrians wanted to build the Town Hall there, the owner refused to sell, and out of ill-will and spite, insisted the house be moved brick by brick across the river.

    I was able to get a table outside on the terrace by the river. I ordered the 'sahan' which is a mixed Bosnian platter, along with a season's salad and yet another small bottle of Grasevina. This is a problem with travelling alone - they don't do jugs of house wine in many places, and ordering a full 75cl bottle is too much for one. I'd have loved to try more local wines.

    My sahan (14KM/7 euros)consisted of an array of meats - as cevapi, meatballs in a sauce, kebabs, dolmas, stuffed tomatoes, peppers and onions. Overall it was very tasty, though there were a few -shall we say 'crunchy'? - bits in the minced meats which I found a little repellent. It is one reason why I didn't eat more cevapi on my visit! The salad was as you'd expect - and 'neh kukuruz'! Delicious fresh young cucumber though.

    The sun was going down as I finished my meal, and the sky turned pink over the city, framed by the hills and mountains on either side. The total bill was 26KM (13 euros).

    I walked back through the Bascarsija, and bought an ice cream cone on the way - peach I think it was, for 1KM. I felt totally safe here, and returned to my hotel around 9.30pm.

    Today I also passed by - several times - the Gazi Husrev-Beg mosque. This is the only mosque open to the public in the Old Town, but at set times and I missed those times. I did take some photos of the courtyard and the birdcage fountain there. There is also a bathhouse in the courtyard, and a Medressa - an Islamic school founded in 1537 - across the street. This is the biggest and busiest Mosque in Sarajevo. It is said to have a gorgeous ceiling decorated with an azure-blue and gold-leaf geometric design, designed by a Persian architect in the 1500s. Maybe I'd get the times right tomorrow.

    I also went to visit the Old Orthodox Church because I wanted to see the wall of icons and paintings inside. There is evidence of a Christian sacred site here, dating back to the 6th century, though the current building only dates back to 1730. There are two beautiful semi-circular frescoes above the doors outside which I photographed. Unfortunately this church is currently undergoing renovation and I could not go inside. I'm not sure if the little museum there is also closed. As I'd got none of my info with me I forgot about it at the time.

    Definitely more photos tomorrow!

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    In Old Orthodox Church they had an accident with fire a few weeks ago, and that is reason for closing, probably.

    Inside the Old Orthodox church is the "child's grave." Restorer of the church from 18th century were digging at the foundations of the Church found the remains of a child. This dead child among the peoples of all faiths, Islamic, Catholic, Orthodox and Jewish, became sacred. The child was placed in a small coffin on a beautifully decorated table. Women of all faiths who would have trouble to bring a new life should pass three times under the table with "child's grave" on it on the knees, believing that it will help them to become pregnant and bring into the world their healthy newborn.

    Opposite of "Bey's Mosque" near the western entrance to the courtyard there there is a public toilet - Bey's Hala, which is in function since 1531 year, continuously. In my opinion, that is the oldest public toilet in the Europe, which is still in use. Today using of it is free of charge.

    Clock on the tower in the yard of Bey's Mosque has another name: "Litle Big Ben". Late 18th Ages clock mechanism was out of order, so the rich people of Sarajevo raise money for a new clock mechanism, which was purchased in London, in the same workshop where was made the London Big Ben clock mechanism.

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    Next morning I was out before 8.30am, and was able to get some pictures of the Sebili Fountain without being crammed with people. The Bascarsija was just opening up, and most of the people there were all locals on their way to work. I walked along Ferhardija – the main pedestrian street running through this part of town.

    Today was May 27th, the anniversary of when people queuing on this street (then called Vase Miskina) for bread in 1992 were hit by a mortar shell. 22 men, women and children lost their lives and many more were injured. The following day the principal cellist with the Sarajevo Opera Orchestra, Vedran Smailovic, took his cello out into the crater left by the shell and played Albinoni’s Adagio in G. He did this every day despite the risk of snipers, for 22 days, in memory of his friends and neighbours who were killed. This was the inspiration for Steven Galloway’s book, the Cellist of Sarajevo, although the actual story focuses on three other characters who are all victims of the siege.

    Around Sarajevo there are ‘Sarajevo Roses’. These are places in the streets where mortar shell explosions left damage, and these have been filled in with a deep pink concrete. I saw quite a few of these but felt it too voyeuristic to photograph them, knowing that in many cases people had died or been injured at those places.

    There were some people setting up speakers at the place where this is supposed to have happened, and a film crew. I supposed there would be some sort of memorial service. I sat at Café Dialog on the edge of Liberation Square and had a cappuccino.

    Now Sarajevo is well-known for its café culture, and in particular its coffee. Strong Bosnian coffee, served Turkish style. Not being much of a coffee drinker myself I could not bring myself to try this strong brew. The cappuccino was plenty strong enough for me!

    I walked up to the main traffic street to get a tram to the National Museum which opened at 10am. Along this street is the Merkale Market where I bought some cherries. In this market 68 people lost their lives when a mortar shell slammed into it in February 1995. Their names are on a memorial plaque which fills the entire wall at the back.

    I bought two tickets at a ‘tisak’ – a wooden kiosk selling newspapers, cigarettes etc. They were 1.6KM each. The National Museum can be reached by most of the trams that pass along this street, look for numbers 2,3,5 which all go there. I wasn’t sure how many stops it would be but I knew I needed to get off by the Holiday Inn. It turned out to the the 4th stop – I got on at the one called Kathedrala – by the cathedral obviously!

    When I arrived it was only 9.45 but the doors were open. I was told I could wait in the garden which I did. This was very pleasant. There were lots of old tombstones – called steccae – which were intricately carved.

    The museum consists of 4 buildings round this garden. One is a library to which the public do not have admission. The other three building each house a different museum. I virtually had the museum to myself, I saw only 3 other people until the Natural History department where there was a school visit. It was 5KM to enter.

    http://www.zemaljskimuzej.ba/index-en.php

    I started with the Archaeology department. I am not much of a museum person but I found this really quite interesting. On one side of the entrance hall there is a huge empty room, well, empty except for a long glass case containing a boat or canoe, hewn from a single tree truck. I measured it at 16 paces so it must be around 30 feet long. There was also one other glass case containing a skeleton with some armour. The beautiful decorated ceiling is coming down so this side is under repair. On the other side there was a large room full of pieces of stone carvings, statues, mosaics, along with pottery and small carved animals. There is no signing in English but it is not difficult to work out that a vase labelled ‘Rodos 1-3 st’ means it came from Rhodes in the 1st to 3rd centuries!

    Up a grand staircase were more rooms with swords, spears, armour, arrow tips, some wicked looking spurs. There was also some beautiful glass from the XV century, amazingly one vase looked to be intact. There there was jewellery – rings with gemstones, earrings galore, mostly huge hoops, buttons, buckles and pins. There were lots of writings dating from the 11th and 12th centuries.

    Finally, in a room glowing violet at the end was the Sarajevo Haggadah.

    http://www.haggadah.ba/?x=1

    http://www.croatianhistory.net/etf/hagg.html

    The room is maybe 12 foot square, lit by UV light. The doorway is glassed over so you can’t enter, and the little book itself is in a case - an ‘ark’ of wood and glass. Other manuscripts are in glassed alcoves around the walls.

    Outside the door is an interactive display which was fascinating. Apart from viewing the incredible history of this sacred book which has survived so much, you can see copies of the first 30 or so pages. It truly is beautiful, the colours are so vivid and the detail is wonderful. For example, in the depictions of the plague of lice, the people can be seen scratching!

    I proceeded to the Department of Ethnology, which had toys, new and old. It was touching to see crude carved wooden cars with tin-can lids for wheels and crudely-made dolls made from cloth scraps. Upstairs was a series of rooms which had been brought from other houses around Bosnia, to illustrate how a wealthy urban family lived a century or more ago. Wonderful carved wooden ceilings, embroidered wall hangings, and traditional furniture were set off by a series of models dressed in traditional costumes. They were very lifelike, and I could almost fancy them coming to life when the museum was closed…

    Next it was on to the Natural History building. In the entrance hall were bones and tusks from a woolly mammoth. Upstairs was a large room filled with cases of butterflies, insects, and all sort of beetles and creepy-crawlies. The schoolchildren were oohing and aahing and urghing over these. Not my thing at all though I admit that some of the butterflies were gorgeous colours. In the hallway and room on the other side were masses of glass cases filled with stuffed animals from mice to bears, and so many birds of every kind imaginable – even vultures. A taxidermist’s idea of heaven I should think, but not mine! I left after only a few minutes.

    Next to the National Museum is the Bosnian Historical Museum. 5KM entry. This is in a socialist-era concrete and glass building that looks quite run down. Upstairs is an exhibition featuring the wars of the last century. Most moving is the display on the siege of Sarajevo. There are many photos of the city during this time, from wounded citizens lying in the streets with UN soldiers hiding behind armoured vehicles, to children carrying sacks of supplies. The pictures drawn by children are heartbreaking, and there is an array of makeshift stoves put together from paint tins and baked bean cans. This was what people had to heat their water and cook their meagre meals on when there was no electricity for weeks at a time. There is not much more I can say about this place, it speaks for itself.

    I crossed the street to the tramlines in the centre to get a tram back into the city.
    Time for a quick lunch!

    I went to Ascinica ASDZ. This is between 2 streets, Mali Curciluk and Kundurdzilak. Here you choose what you would like to eat at the counter from a wide range of Bosnian dishes. I had a sort of chicken fritter, and lots of stuffed vegetables for 10KM plus a bowl of salad (2KM) and a Fanta limon (3KM). When you have chosen you sit down and your selection is brought to you with a basket of lovely soft flatbread. This is not a place to linger, and it seems to serve many local people. There was a rapid turnover of suited businessmen, women in smart skirts and blouses, soldiers, Muslim women and workmen in paint-stained jeans. Everyone just ate and left, but it was a place for everyone with tasty food, and a very nice restroom.

    Yes, restrooms – I could write a chapter on these! But I will refrain. I will just say that they vary from very nice to holes in the floor. Say no more!

    Coming up – the Brewery, Tunnel Museum, and fabulous views down to and across the city from up in the hills.

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    julia,

    I'm just now reading your fascinating report. So little is known of the Balkans; thank you for this wonderful description.

    It's particularly meaningful to me because my daughter, who is half-way through her master's program in international human rights, arrived in Sarajevo this past Thursday. She is doing an internship there for the summer. So far she loves it and the people she's going to be working with have been wonderful to her. I'm going to send her the link to your report which I know she'll love.

    Some women in her organization have offered to take her with them when they drive to Dubrovnik. Should I be concerned about the drive? My husband and I drove to Mostar and back (by way of Medjugorje) from Dubrovnik. I'm like you when it comes to mountain roads and I don't remember feeling terrified, but we didn't go all the way to Sarajevo. I guess it doesn't make much difference; if she wants to go, she'll go regardless of how much I worry :)

    Your pictures are beautiful. Mostar was a last-minute day drip for us, so I hadn't done any research. What struck me was all the bombed out and bullet-riddled buildings which haven't been repaired or torn down yet. It looks like you saw some in Sarajevo, but overall, it looks like they've done significant repairs.

    Looking forward to reading more!

    Ellen

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    kostake...

    Thank you for those pieces of information about the Old Orthodox church - I hope it wasn't too badly damaged in the fire. I had read none of that in the guidebooks or online, same for the information about Little Big Ben.

    ellen...

    I am sure your daughter will have a wonderful time there - I'd love to have been able to spend more time there. You must be relieved she seems settled in already.

    Don't be worried about the drive. It is quite a bit more twisty than the Mostar-Dubrovnik bit you've travelled along, but it is a main road and is well surfaced with good guard rails. The surrounding landscape is astonishing.

    More repairs have been done in Sarajevo than Mostar though many buildings are still heavily pockmarked. I seem to remember in Mostar being told there are empty and abandoned buildings because either the owners and their families have either all died, or they were perpetrators of crimes and cannot return for fear of reprisal.

    I have been sent a link to a film coming out in September/October called Sarajevo Roses.

    http://vimeo.com/4562914

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    QUOTE:
    I walked back through the Bascarsija, and bought an ice cream cone on the way - peach I think it was, for 1KM. I felt totally safe here, and returned to my hotel around 9.30pm.
    END OF QUOTATION.

    julia,
    I did not spend to much time in the western countries. Is it safe to walk alone in the dark in your town? In Sarajevo, that is normal for whole my life, to walk in the streets in the nights. Also, for women.

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    I am bogged down with work at the moment and just haven't the energy to finish this report at the moment. But I will do, because for those people wanting to venture farther afield, there is a distinct lack of information available, and if this helps just one person then it will be worth it.

    Kostake...

    In England, and the rest of the United Kingdom, we currently have 24 hours licensing laws, which means alcohol is on sale at all hours. There is what is called a 'binge drinking' culture, and in bars and clubs there are all sorts of deals on shots of spirits, which ultimately means that in the evenings and late at night there are lots of drunk people around.

    Drunk people can be very aggressive and threatening. I have experienced this on occasion, and it wasn't at night but it was still very frightening.

    So while it may be safe some of the time to walk in my town and other British towns and cities in the dark, at other times it can be asking for trouble.

    In Sarajevo I felt safe.

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    My daughter has found Sarajevo to be very safe. In the Balkans, my husband and I have traveled in Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and Croatia (and briefly in B-H) and have also felt very safe. Safer than in many cities of comparable size in the US, for sure. That's not to say one should be naive in any city anywhere in the world, but there's a very different feeling in the Balkans in my opinion.

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    When I’d finished my lunch I still had an hour before it was time to meet up in the At-Mejdan Park across the river for the Tunnel Tour. So I walked up the hill, along and down to the Sarajevska Pivara – the Sarajevo Brewery. This is built on a freshwater spring and was a vital source of water during the siege. In the book The Cellist of Sarajevo the story of one of the 3 main characters, Kenan, is his struggle to get water from here for his family and elderly beighbour. His journey through the besieged city and across the river is vividly described, along with his terror and feelings in inadequacy and helplessness.

    The brewery is a magnificent building, painted a striking shade of deep puce with pale facings around the windows. I ventured inside to see the barrel-vaulted ceiling made of bricks. It is also a restaurant and apparently a lively place to go at night with bands and dancing. Anyway, it was 1.15pm and I ordered a glass of the light beer for 3KM. It had a distinct malt taste, and while being quite robust was also cold and refreshing. I walked back to the park passing by the Church of St Ante. There is a Franciscan Monastery here with a collection of manuscripts, books and paintings, though I did not realise that until later on.

    I met with the Tunnel Tour guide in the park, and also in the tour were a group of graduate students from Springfield, Ohio. They were on an exchange visit, each doing a sociological study. They were good company.

    The tour took us out of the city along Sniper Alley and the guide pointed out various buildings and places of interest. When we got to the house where the Tunnel is, we were all surprised because it really is in the middle of a residential village. The outside is very battered and pitted with shell holes, as are the surrounding houses. We were taken through to sit on benches and watch a film of about 10 minutes. This showed a lot of war and siege footage, along with footage of the tunnel being dug, and then in use. The students were absolutely silent during this, and sat shaking their heads in disbelief and awe at some of the atrocities shown. They had been in the city a week and obviously knew it better than I, and they recognised some of the places they had been and walked by in recent days being shelled or burned, and all this happening while they were still little more than toddlers. After the film we were allowed to descend into the tunnel and walk through the first 20m or so which is all that is still open. Outside again, it is sobering to look across the airport runway to the building 800m away where the tunnel came up. There is a small museum as well, with assorted paraphernalia of the siege, and some photos of celebrities who have visited. Daniel Craig and Richard Gere are two I remember. None of Brad and Angelina who had been in the city earlier in the month.

    We returned to the city another way through the hills, which gave us a chance to take some pictures from above. A most impressive view.

    The tour took about 2 hours in total, and cost 24KM or 12 euros. Certainly worth doing.

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    Thanks Julia_t. Still enjoying this very much.
    I reviewed your pictures after reading your latest chapter and could relate to them better. So much beauty amid the crushing historical sentiment.

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    Thank you Mathieu - it's nice to know that this longer-than-intended report is still being read! Here's the last Sarajevo installment.

    Ellen - I'm glad your daughter feels safe there, that must be a relief for you.

    After the Tunnel Tour, I walked back into the Bascarsija. I hope the Mosque might be open but once again I’d missed it. In the Medressa opposite the mosque an Art Exhibition had opened that day, featuring ‘Alchemy 1970-2010’ by Edin Numankadic.
    A Bosnian contemporary artist, his works include abstract paintings, and installations. There were a few paintings around the various rooms of the medressa, but in every room was at least one example of his Boxes cycle – these are boxes of varying sise containing an assortment of objects. To quote ‘’….by carefully confronting found objects he registers his reality in times of war and peace…’’ I found it interesting.

    I did some shopping for gifts, and returned to the hotel. There is a taxi rank close to the hotel but I’d read some negative stuff about Sarajevo Taxis overcharging tourists, so I asked Fatima about getting a taxi up to a restaurant in the hills that evening. She said she couldn’t comment about any particular taxi firm, but Sarajevo Taxis would be OK if booked by her, and she would speak to the driver.

    I had decided to eat up in the hills above the city, and hoped for a good sunset as it would be spectacular with the mountain backdrop. There are two restaurants mentioned as being good, both situated high up. Park Princeva is supposed to be the best, with lots of famous people as past diners, a good wine list and an impressive menu. It is also quite expensive. But – it serves European cuisine as opposed to Bosnian. So I chose to go to Kod Babina, which is even higher up the hill.

    The taxi cost 8KM (4 euros). There is a terrace here with the most wonderful views all round the city. Truly panoramic. Unfortunately it was very windy up here and I decided to eat inside rather than stay out on the terrace. Many of the tables were occupied, some with diners others with people just drinking and enjoying the views.
    There are big picture windows so you don’t miss any of the view by being inside.

    The sunset was a bit disappointing as it was quite cloudy, but to see the city light up with skeins of silver and gold lights was lovely.

    I ordered a Bosnian platter to start, which was a cured ham like prsut, with cheese and olives, followed by veal cutlets (all veal in BiH is free-range) and a side salad. I asked for white wine and was brought a small jug, maybe ¼ litre, 25cl. Apart from the veal which seemed to have a lot of bones and chewy bits the meal was pleasant enough and the total bill was 25KM (12.5 euros). The restaurant rang for a taxi for me – this time I was charged 10KM!

    Another wander through the Bascarsija in the dusk and an ice cream, I think it was kiwi fruit this time, and my time in Sarajevo was almost over.

    Next morning I breakfasted in the Bascarsija before checking out and setting off for Mostar.

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    Julia, I just wanted to add my thanks for an informative, well written thread on a destination I knew little about. I've come back over the last couple of days to catch up.

    IMO, Fodors can use much more information on seldom mentioned and interesting places like these!

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    Clifton - your praise is most pleasing, coming as it does from the man who wrote the definitive Romanian trip report!

    Some places are seldom mentioned because there is so little information on them that many people don't bother to go. I realised how accustomed I had become to information overload on demand for places like Paris, Venice, Rome, Barcelona etc that when I started to research BiH I was so surprised by the almost complete lack of information on places outside the cities of Sarajevo and Mostar, I nearly decided not to do this trip and just stay around Split and the Croatian coast and islands.

    I am so glad I didn't bottle out due to lack of information! And I am definitely returning, planning to explore the country further north and east.

    I apologise for the length of this report - I didn't mean it to be quite so long, but if the detail in it helps just one person who is planning to visit this wonderful country, then it will be worth it.

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    julia, your title, "Off the Beaten Track..." is very appropriate. Clifton is right; there is plenty of information on the better-known and traveled destinations. Thank you for telling us about a little-known but beautiful and historical destination.

    Ellen

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    Loved reading about Sarajevo. My son and I will be there in September. I haven't done much research, so I didn't know what to expect. Glad to hear that it is safe. I'm a little worried about food as I am not much of a meat eater, usually pasta and veggies and occasionally chicken.

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    scatcat,

    My daughter is there on an internship this summer. She's a vegetarian and was also a little concerned about her diet. She hasn't had a bit of trouble. Good salads, wonderful cheese "pies", etc. She hasn't said much about vegetables other than salads, but I would suspect they have them. It's safe, as are the Balkans in general. She absolutely loves it and I think will have mixed feelings about coming home in August. If you want specifics, I'd be happy to ask her.

    Ellen

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    Thanks Ellen. I can live off good salads and an occasional banana...well, and of course ice cream. I feel much better knowing that she likes it there. I had never even thought about going to Sarajevo, so it was disturbing to me when my son made this decision to go. Hopefully I will love it also.

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    Julia - thank you so much for your report. I have just read the entire report and am in awe of your courage to travel on your own in this area. It has made me more aware of not forming opinions without knowing anything.

    Have been through Slovenia and Croatia by train but that is all. Maybe it is time to see more of these countries and Bosnia.

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    Julia - just wanted to let you know I printed out your trip report - came to 17 pages. There is a lady that waits on me at the department store - she is from Sarajevo. She is interested to read about your journey there. Thank you.

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    bratsandbeer - thank you for your kind words and for printing out all those pages for that lady. I hope she enjoys it and recognises a little of the Sarajevo she remembers.

    Yes, do consider visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina, I don't think you'd regret it. I'm trying to work out when and how to go back next year.

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    julia t-- thanks for such an interesting, thorough trip report and for the pictures. My husband and I are planning to go to Sarajevo in early October to visit a friend who has been living there for two years. She loves the city and says it is one of the great off the beaten track destinations.

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    We just got back from our trip last night, around midnight. I will post a full trip report eventually, but I thought I would add a few comments about roads from Sarajevo/Mostar to the Croatian coast to this thread, since it has so much information about different routes.
    First, julia_t, let me assure you that your instincts about the road from Ljubski to Makarska on the coast via Vrgorac were correct--this is a terrifying, although very beautiful, drive. It is much, much, MUCH worse than the Sarajevo to Mostar and Mostar to Ljubuski drives.
    We also drove from Mostar to the Dubrovnik area via the road that goes through Stolac, Ljubinje and Trebinje. This is not frightening in the same way --much easier curves, little traffic, but there are land mines all along the route south of Stolac to at least the border so you can't safely stop and get off the road. There is really no way to know this from conventional maps but if you see a map of mined areas it is clear. (We went that route anyway for the more interesting scenery and because we were with a friend who had done it several times, but it certainly made me nervous!)

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    Looking forward to reading about your trip as soon as you can get round to writing and posting it!

    Glad you've returned safely. Interesting to know about the road down to the coast that I didn't dare to try! I've considered that route via Stolac and Trebinje, and in fact Rick Steves wrote about when he did it and didn't say it was anything too horrific.

    I think you are very lucky to have a friend in Sarajevo, you will have had a wonderful introduction to that part of Europe, in much greater depth than most of us could ever hope to experience.

    Again, I can't wait to read about it.

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    Julia_t-- I just checked and indeed Rick Steves seems to take his Adriatic tours on the Stlac-Trebinje-Dubrovnik route. It really is very scenic and not difficult driving. It is just knowing that there are land mines all along the route.

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    Thank you for your good wishes! Yes, I fly to Sarajevo next Monday, 4th April for 5 nights with my ex-Mother-in-Law.

    I only heard last week that the apartment I had planned to rent has problems with the heating, and I could not find another well-located 2 bedroom one. So we'll be staying at the Hotel Safir.

    I caught my foot on an uneven paving slab in my home town on Friday and have sprained my ankle - I have it on ice as I write this, and hope it will not affect my getting around in Sarajevo! I'd hoped to take a half-day and ski at Jahorina, but it's a bit late in the season now - the snow is melting as it is relatively far south for a ski resort.

    Anyway, I am so looking forward to returning, and I have planned to re-read YOUR trip report before I leave.

    Another book set in Sarajevo which you might enjoy (not sure if that's quite the right word) is The Girl in the Film by Charlotte Eagar (she was a journalist based in the Holiday Inn during much of the siege, who fell in love with a Sarajevo man). It's a semi-autobiographical novel, very powerful in its imagery, also very different. Here's an article she wrote in 2008...

    http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23522885-my-five-year-battle-to-exorcise-the-ghosts-of-sarajevo.do



    I also came across a film called Valter Branj Sarajevo. It's set in WW2 with a 'charismatic resistance fighter v the Nazis'. Apparently it's the most popular foreign film in China, shown routinely to schoolchildren! I liked it anyway! And did you know that Orson Welles, Franco Nero and Yul Brynner were in a film called Battle of Neretva, set in WW2 Bosnia? I only caught a little of it but the scenery was fabulous.

    Look out for a trip report mid-April!

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    julia_t--Thanks for the book recommendation and the article. The novel does look interesting although as you note, not exactly enjoyable. I found a used copy via amazon so could order it if it is not available through the library.

    I hope that your sprained ankle heals quickly and you are able to get around in Sarajevo. My son had a sports brace last summer following a bad sprain and it really helped. Remember, taxis are quite affordable.

    Let me know if you have any questions after reading my trip report and, again, have a great trip

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    Thanks, will do.

    There are some 5 star reviews for that book on amazon.co.uk...

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Girl-Film-Charlotte-Eagar/dp/0955830273

    It is worth reading, and as you have been to Sarajevo you will be able to picture it all very vividly. I found it riveting, and profoundly moving, almost disturbing, but still recommend it for anyone who has any feeling for this city and its people.

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    Julia_t, hope that your ankle heals quickly and wishing you the best on your trip. Looking forward to your Trip Report as I very much enjoyed your first. You have a wonderful narrative style and provide lots of interesting information.

    M.

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    @Julia_t

    I am from Sarajevo and'm very glad that You have a positive experience from Sarajevo ... on every trip we have a beautiful or ugly experience .. I hope you will forget the bad and remember the beautiful .. your description of the trip was really amazing .. but one thing is impossible to agree with you ... :-( Bosnian coffee is better and always will be better than kapucino etc. .... in the end I want to explain the difference between the Bosnian and Turkish coffee (small difference) .. The Turks put the coffee in cold water and then put to a boil while Bosnians put coffee in boiling water .. it's all from me and I hope that you will visit Sarajevo again

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    statkis...

    I returned to Sarajevo a few weeks ago at the beginning of April. This time I tried Bosnian coffee - and found I loved it!

    I wrote another trip report, which you can find if you click on my name. Once again I had a good experience in Sarajevo, and I'll be returning to this city and indeed the country -which has captured a place in my heart.

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