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A week in Bosnia

Written on: Wednesday June 11th, 2008

A journal entry from: Trails in 2008

We head to Bosnia for a week of war tourism. First stop is Mostar, a pretty town most famous for its 25 metre high bridge over the river that locals jump off. Nowadays the locals will only jump off if the tourists can pay enough (around 30 euros will do it). But why pay these well toned guys in budgie smugglers to jump when you can watch them strutting around on the bridge for free?! The town is very pretty, but lots of scars remain from the fighting, with about 30% of buildings still bombed out and bullet holes pretty much in every wall. Even the trees have bullet holes. Hundreds of graveyards right in the village remind us of the huge number of people who were killed by the Serbs, all dated June & July 1991.

The 3 hour train journey from Mostar to Sarajevo cost only $5 and went through beautiful hilly countryside and alongside a clear blue river that in great socialist style has been dammed up to generate loads of electricity.

Sarajevo has even more grim tales to tell from the war, and they have generated a bit of tourism from it too - there is a compulsory tour to see the front line, a hill from where serbs would shoot down random bosnians (sniper alley) and where the tv journalists used to beam in live to us at home, followed by a visit to the secret tunel 80 metres long painstakingly dug under the airport runway which was a lifeline for the trapped 300,000 inhabitants supplying food and contact with the outside world. Our guide was a 40 year old woman who lived through this 3 years of hell, and described their hope each time a UN or other international official visited that help would come - we couldn't help but feel guilty for the world's inaction (mental note to take more notice and action in future).
I have gone from 2 coffees a week to 3 coffees a day here - its the only way I can get access to a loo! The turkish quarter of Sarajevo is a bustling network of cobbled streets with shops selling lots of silver and gold jewellery, beaten copper plates and souvenirs and lots of cafes. Still finding it strange to see the muslim culture visible, although only about 5% of the people wear a headscarf the main mosque is always humming with people.
Our english roomies at the hostel needed our help with some stiff drinks on our second night there. They had been sightseeing alongside the river downtown and heard a car backfire, then lots of people running so the street was empty within 15 seconds. Turned out it was a gun and all those wisened up Sarajevans knew exactly what to do! A young guy ran towards them and then collapsed so they went to his assistance. He had been shot in the back and the situation was not looking good. A restaurant owner came out with some towels but they were shocked and surprised that the few people left weren't willing to help and that some were taking pictures on their phones. The ambulance soon arrived to take him away and it has remained a mystery ever since as to whether he survived or not. We have felt incredibly safe here, and are all sure that this was a 'could have happened anywhere' event, but just fairly ironic that it was in Sarajevo, and not to mention right on the bridge where Franz Ferdinand was shot in 1914 that sparked off WW1. We had a quiet moment for him (not to mention some drinks), we hope he is now safely recovering.
On the train out of Sarajevo back to the Croatian coast, we are vacum sealed into a carriage full of smokers... just us and a 10 year old were benefiting from the 2nd hand fumes. There are a lot of smokers. Bosnia is pretty easy to transport yourself around and good for us because most people speak english. It isn't too westernised though, there are hardly any chain stores that make every city look the same, not one starbucks! Still, sometimes when all you can get for breakfast is a greasy filo pastry pie and can't get coffee to take away...
Bosnia was much more scenic than we imagined, lots of mountains and a lot of agriculture - grapevines, veges, all growing anywhere imaginable. Shame that a lot of places are off limits for trekking as there are still a lot of mines remaining.

The big flatscreen tv´s are starting to appear in full force, in preparation for the euro´s footy competition, I have lost Al for the next 2 weeks!