Of the four countries, and five cities we visited on our European tour, I will empathically say, Bosnia was the ‘best’. Best is a tough thing to say when I explain why I found it the most impactful. This is a city that, IN MY CHILDHOOD, suffered a civil war for 44 months. People starved, for 44 months. I was in primary school. The world knew, but didn’t do anything. I chose to read about Sarajevo/Bosnia prior to coming, and also read two books whilst in Sarajevo (yes, I even bought new books, which is something I NEVER do, but am so glad I did do!). These books really helped me to understand how it was to be in Sarajevo during this time. I also dated a Bosnian whilst at university, and that is a large reason I ever learnt about Bosnia.
My brother, Rory, returned back to the UK two days before my departure. Once he was on his way to the airport, I joined a hostel tour of the tunnel under the aiport (and got to see my little bro’s plane take off), and then onto the Toboggan course.
Doing these posts two months after my trip help me realise how much I enjoyed my time. Sure – there were struggles like the steep hills in Sarajevo, the cash card not working in Romania, and mould in bathrooms in Turkey. However, on the balance, I saw so much. I learnt so much about four other cultures, four other countries, and their capital cities. My brother was an awesome travel buddy – we were lazy for a good half of the day, really taking the rest and recover part of the holiday seriously. I often felt ‘guilt’ about this – not making the most of where we were. For Rory, he was homeless by work and home circumstances, so didn’t have the same hang up. And I shouldn’t either! Concurrently to this trip were some things happening in Australia that were challenging. For that reason, I travelled for three weeks, rather than four weeks. It got shocked responses from people I told in Bosnia that I was going home early. But I was ‘done’. I was rested. I no longe rhad the drive and momentum to go to another new place. I didn’t want to search for a good deal for a place to stay, or a flight. Actually, I think I realised – I don’t actually like to PLAN holidays. I might consider outsouring that next time – I didn’t hate my two weeks in Japan when I was largely ‘scheduled’; that trip, I did seek a little more idle time, but as that two week trip developed, I ekked out that time. And having a tour or a guide can really help you understand a culture, and answer your questions as they come into your mind (rather than relying on google when you get back to wifi).
Our flights was “interesting”. There were a lot of children, and they weren’t particularly well disciplined. I think we heard ‘Please sit down’ close to 100 times on the PA by the flight attendant. I gather the children were not English speakers, and the flight attendants were not Turkish or Arabic speakers.
The husband of the couple that owned and ran the hostel collected us from the airport – this is not a city of Uber. There are taxis, but you can’t be sure they will be at the airport for the few flights that arrive. There are concerns about taxi rorts, but we took a few (and I took a few alone) and found them incredibly well priced!
So, we’ve had our first time zone snaffu. There’s a free daily walking tour at 10:30 and we made it to the location but there was no one. Somehow I considered that my phones time might have been wrong, which Rory confirmed. It was really 9:30, so we went in search of breakfast and found a swanky place with a buffet. All manner of egg based yummy – vanilla slice (uniced), some filo parcel containing chicken and capsicum, other egg thing. Then Rory got a cheesy potato fritter which was deceptively tastier than any version I’d ever attempt!!
It’s still lovely and fresh here this morning but the rain has cleared. It’s probably about 20C, so a bit cool in shorts but it’s due to warm up. Last night I was pleased to have jeans and a cotton jumper, it was certainly cold enough.
For dinner last night we wandered into the old town. Our hostel has given us a map they’ve designed and their favourite places, however I would suspect it’s angled at the budget conscious backpackers in our hostel. We met some girls when we cooked packet soup for lunch after getting sodden on our walk to the local shops. The two Brits were nice enough. Rory also has a nap later and when I was awake I went back to the kitchen and met more Brits, an Aussie, two québécois. Everyone seems to love and Rave about our hostel. It’s relatively small, perhaps 8 rooms and so I think it means it’s friendly. Sadly we failed to get the TV to work to watch the olympics.
Back to dinner. We picked a place called To Be, and it was also relatively small. We sat at the second table upstairs and there was four people at the other tables, clearly tourists/backpackers. Anyhow, we couldn’t really avoid their conversations and so ended up befriending them. There was an Israeli woman coupled with a Scot, and then the scots friend who works in UAE currently. Those three all seem to know each other, and then they had a Brazilian girl. The poor Brazilian girl stuffed up her hostel booking for the next night in Belgrade whilst at dinner, but as suspected, it all turned out fine. Very laid back culture with bookings etc. tho many report things are “filling up”. The majority of ways out of here is on buses of durations that extend to the whims of the drivers restaurant meals! Only one train per day supposedly. So it means people get all sorts of caught up, having only one proper day here or having to back track. Or spend 8+ hours on a bus! The couple at dinner had been south, and raves about Albania (pretty, friendly, not touristy). They were avoiding Croatia and all reports from hostellers is its full of Aussies! There was also nice things said about the nature of Montegnegro, or was it Macedonia? Seriously. So many little countries!! Anyhow, we ended up continuing on for a drink with the trio. Rory and I had shared a bottle of local red at dinner so after I tried their rakir, which is a coverall term for homemade liquor. Went for pear. Was so so. The other three smoked hooka which is a Israeli teenage pastime. We veered into Arab politics and hijab wearing rules, and the Israeli had strong opinions!!
Romania is relatively cheap and probably partly popular due to this. The Bosnian marks is equal to half a euro, it’s pegged. It’s a quick conversion but we’ve not yet been in euro countries so for me, it’s a misnomer!! 12BAM = $9au.
We’re about set for our walking tour, Mach 2! There’s probably 15 peoples, with some older than me! Woot!! Strike that estimation – the numbers grew to at least 40! And one guide. Rory and I already knew some of the info from talking to the Brit Holly in the hostel. Nonetheless, it was 2.5hours of seeing and walking around.
The vast majority of Bosnia identify as Bosniaks or Muslim; then orthodox or Catholic and then others (Jews, Jedis etc). To keep the peace there’s three presidents, for a country of four million people. Seems… Interesting. There’s 200 mosques; about 140 prior to Tito and communism. Whilst he didn’t destroy these cultural buildings, none were built in his time. The Ottoman Empire ensured their town planning included three things: a bakery, a well/fountain and a mosque. There’s a number of synagogues but only 600 Jews in Sarajevo now, a number that’s been stable for decades. The Ottoman Empire welcomed Jews after the Spanish Inquisition, as they were highly educated.
There’s a resurgence of religion and largely from the youth, those in their 30s who spent 44months living in basements and suffering the minimal food and education. Education is free here – a 50euro contribution per annum for university. But there’s 60% youth unemployment. You see a lot of informal stalls – selling forages flowers or fruit. Or clothing items. Those who are unemployed get free healthcare.
Like Turkey, Bosnians have a strong coffee, that must sit to let it settle. There’s clear Turkish influences in the old town and the mosques; but then the austo-Hungarian rule shows in the more ornate buildings and pedestrian malls and the like. And of course there is the purely functional and unadorned buildings of the Yugoslavian years. There’s certain fondness for Tito that he held Yugoslavia together. He thought he would never die. Which is perplexingly naive.
The assassination of Franz Ferdinand is seen by many as a cause for celebration as (following the first world war) it achieved its outcomes – to remove the foreign rulers from Bosnia and Yugoslavia. Supposedly their were six assassins on the day, and the two 19 year olds who actually “acted” on the day, due to their age, only got 20 year sentences unlike the other four who got the death penalty. Not to worry as both died after three years in prison. But there’s a certain pride in what the assassination achieved.
As I mentioned in my annual goals post and my bucket list – I want to visit much of Eastern Europe – Russia, Romania and Bosnia.
Russia is one of the BIG national powers. I loved Paullina Simon’s books, particularly the Bronze Horseman, and I am in awe of the majestic religious buildings, particularly in a communist country, which in other nations has totally destroyed religious buildings. I used to think the ‘cold war’ was over – having just watch The Bridge of Spies, but then I applied for my visa and I’m not so sure. It was incredibly thorough!
(this routine was in the film, and I can guarantee they match! Though the film’s music was even more emotive)
Romania is definitely off the ‘usual’ tourist path. Since 2006’s trip was cancelled whilst I live in France, it’s been on my ‘one day’ list. The first reason for Romania is my fanatical interest in Nadia Comenici – when mum had to go into school on school holidays, she used to put this on to keep us kids quiet. I am not one for learning to rote a movie’s script – but this film (Nadia) I can! The film is SO old I have a copy on VHS! It doesn’t exist in DVD or anything new fangled like that. The second reason is that I made a very close friend in first year university who was Romanian, so I’m curious to see his home town. In 2006, I booked flights to Romania, however it wasn’t part of the EU and required evidence of USD100 per day! As a young student, I didn’t have that sort of cash sitting idly (I was working as an au pair)! It was just too hard to get a visa, so at no cost Air France let me change my fare and I went to Rome, which was memorable and delightfully crisp. To ensure I wasn’t just a dreamer, I’ve read two books set in Romania recently – one at a beachside town where they defect to Turkey. Another was an American based in Romania with a few other shady characters, trying to survive in the communist state that was slowly dis-assembly all relics of the past.
Bosnia is probably best described as ‘trauma tourism’ or similar. The same things that draw me to Holocaust memoirs and visiting Jewish museums interests me in the war. And… I have an ex boyfriend who is Bosnian. He shared so little of his culture, but I was always incredibly curious about him and his childhood, having migrated at the age of 12. Again, I’ve tried to read to ensure I have a better idea of what I’m visiting, and I’m incredibly curious to see this junction of ‘East meets West’ particularly as we’ll now also visit Turkey, which has similar parallels.
So, to date, I’ve booked the long haul flights, in addition to accommodation in two cities of Russia, a flight to Romania, and accommodation in both Bucharest and Sarajevo. It’s a solid start and I just need to keep chipping away at booking for air travel and hotels. Thankfully my younger brother is a champ, and happy to go along for the ride. I bet he ends up knowing all sorts of quirky historic facts, cause he’s that type 😉