When it comes to history, Bosnia & Herzegovina has probably one of the most devastating out there. People might think of events like the Holocaust or 9/11 as abysmal, but the Bosnian War of the early 1990’s often gets overlooked. It’s a tragedy within itself that many don’t know of what had happened– that said, I found my visit to this small Balkan country not only educational, but also an insightful view into how humanity can be terrible in this world.
Admittedly, I knew little about Bosnian history before I booked my day trip to Mostar from Split on my last full day in town. I’d only heard that it wasn’t a happy one, and in hindsight, I wished that I’d read up a little bit on it before I went. All the same, my tour guide was a local who’d lived through it, and he gave us a wealth of facts and information on it. Besides learning an important part of the country’s history, it also gave us context to its state of affairs today, as it’s still slowly recovering and moving forward from its former-Communist past.
In essence, the Bosnian War was a result of the breakup of Yugoslavia, which had encompassed the majority of the Balkans. The war, which occurred between 1992 and 1995, was a response to the secession of Slovenia and Croatia as they became independent countries, and the Socialist party of Bosnia & Herzegovina desired to become independent as well. What resulted was three long years of fighting among the Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks (many whom are Muslim), in which over 100,000 people were killed, most of them Bosniaks. Even to this day, Bosniaks have a general dislike, even hatred, for Serbs and Croats, who had been mainly responsible for the genocide, along with ethnic cleansing and mass rape.
Hearing all of this was certainly not easy to swallow, but at the same time I was grateful for it. Again, it’s unbelievable that many people don’t know or overlook this part of history, especially when it’d taken place not so long ago. Much of the country is still quite poor today, as it has struggled to transition from a socialist to capitalist society. A good portion of its economy relies on tourism, mainly to Mostar and Sarajevo, and while the country has yet to be a popular destination like Croatia or Greece, it draws a solid one million visitors per year.
Just like my day trip to Montenegro, there is also border control between Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina. The cross over wasn’t so bad, as my *completely-packed* tour went through within 40 minutes on our way to Mostar.
Before that, we made a brief stop in Počitelj, a village which had an interesting blend of architecture from medieval and Ottoman times. While our stop was mainly for restrooms and souvenirs, we also had a bit of time to explore the small town. I found it a charming place, as the views halfway up to its citadel offered sweeping views of the Neretva river, along with the village’s mosque, as nearly 80% of its inhabitants were Muslim back in the early 1990’s. I found Počitelj a beautiful gem in the country, and it’s definitely worth a stop on the way over to Mostar.
We reached Mostar around 11:00, where a local tour guide took us on a walking tour of the Old Town. Although not very big, Mostar is one of the most-popular destinations in Bosnia & Herzegovnia (along with Sarajevo northeast of it) and nothing like I’d seen in Europe. Considering its notable Muslim population, Mostar has plenty of mosques in town, along with bazaars that reminded me somewhat of the souks in Morocco. With its close proximity to Turkey, I could imagine that Mostar (let alone Bosnia & Herzegovina) resembles that of places like Istanbul, and it made for a different, but refreshing experience during my time there.
Our local tour guide took us to some highlights of the city, including the iconic Stari Most, which means “Old Bridge.” Interestingly, Mostar got its name as the verlan of this landmark, and so the city literally means “city of the Old Bridge.” I found it quite incredible…and very straightforward!
Besides Stari Most, we also visited the Kajtaz House, a 16th-century Turkish house which once belonged to a wealthy family. Although it was quite small despite its second-story layout, it boasted a wealthy of intricately-designed rugs, richly-carved wooden furniture, and traditional Turkish garments as worn by the family back in the day.
Soon afterwards, we were given about two hours to explore Mostar on our own. As it was around lunchtime, I headed to a restaurant that our tour guide had recommended– not only did it serve Bosnian food, but it also offered a lovely view of Stari Most from its terrace. I ordered ćevapi, which is a sort of kebab consisting of small, grilled sausages served with pita bread on the side. A very simple dish, but all the same incredibly hearty– along with a glass of wine and views of the Old Town, I certainly wasn’t complaining!
I finished my meal and wandered Old Town, where I bought a few souvenirs. As Bosnia & Herzegovina is still a poor country, much of its prices are significantly cheaper than other parts of Europe, especially in the west. I was actually really surprised at just how inexpensive items were, and I admit that I was a bit spendier than usual– I ended up buying a few postcards, along with a magnet, small purse, and a beautifully-designed journal for under 20€ (or 40 Bosnian marks). Interestingly, it wasn’t necessary to exchange currency in Bosnia & Herzegovnia, as I had no problem paying in euros– you could even pay in US dollars, and people would accept them, although you’ll get change back in Bosnian marks. After all, money is money!
Besides shopping, I also headed quickly to the other side of town, where there’s another bridge upon which you can get more comprehensive views of Stari Most and the Old Town. I got some photos in before I made my way back to the tour coach parked just outside of Old Town– I also made a short stop at a church’s bell tower just adjacent to the parking lot, where I paid to go up for views of Mostar. I actually didn’t find the views that spectacular, as you can’t see Stari Most from it, but it does offer sweeping views of the entire city and mountains surrounding it.
Around 14:00, we left Mostar to continue to our next destination(s) in Bosnia & Herzegovnia. We actually had two choices on where to go: the town of Medjugorje, or Kravica waterfalls. The former is known for the apparition of the Virgin Mary, reportedly seen in 1981, while the latter is a cluster of cascades located not too far from the Croatian-Bosnian border. Our tour guide gave us the option to drop us off at either of these sites, then picking us up after some time spent there. About 70% of the passengers chose to visit Medjugorje, while the rest (including myself) continued to Kravica.
Considering that I’d just visited Plitviče Lakes the day before, I found Kravica to be smaller in comparison. However, people are in fact allowed to swim in the water, and I found it less touristy than its Croatian counterpart. I didn’t swim, but I did walk around the area before settling at the lake-side bar with a glass of white wine. I also bought a small bottle of homemade pomegranate rakia (a strong Balkan spirit) before I left, as there was a random roadside stand selling it– certainly a nice gift to bring back to France!
The tour coach had picked up those who’d visited Medjugorje first before picking up the rest of us at Kravica– from there, we headed back to Split for the day. Again, border control wasn’t too bad, and we soon returned to Split around 19:00.
Although it was a short time in Bosnia & Herzegovnia, I was really surprised at just how much I’d enjoyed my visit. While much of it was dedicated to Mostar, I fell in love with the country and its beauty, and I wish that I could’ve stayed longer to see more. I’d love to return soon, to see more of Mostar and venture to Sarajevo. Definitely an underrated country, and it deserves more days to see it all than a single day.
We’ll be moving on to more posts on Croatia, as I’ll be recapping my visit of Zagreb in the next post. See you soon!