Our first taste of Bosnia and Herzegovina was the small town of Trebinje. It was a simple little place with a small old town and a church atop a hill. We stopped for cheap beer at €1 a pint and then made our way to the church which was so beautiful on the inside with murals covering the walls and domed ceilings. On the walk Craig said “it’s either raining or I just got pooed on” I heard him but I just looked up at the blue skies and chose to ignore him. Thirty minutes later I looked at him and said “what’s that on your face?” And then we realised…a bird did in fact poo on him.
The next day we headed to Mostar which is a destination on most peoples Balkan trip. We were pretty shocked to see how busy the old town was, in fact it was probably the busiest place we’ve been since before covid. Tour buses bring hordes of people on day trips from Croatia and the cobblestone lanes were chocker-block. Shops all sold the same things, jewellery, coffee pots and scarfs but the place had a good vibe to it. There was a lot of evidence around Mostar from the war too with bullet holes covering many of the buildings.
We crossed over the famous bridge known as ‘Stari Most’ where locals jump from. I read that you can pay €10 to train on some smaller jumps along the river before you’re allowed to leap from the bridge which is about 20m tall. They host the redbull diving competition here where they add a platform to the bridge, increasing the jump height to around 28m. We managed to witness a local jumping from the bridge after hyping up the crowd and getting enough donations to justify getting wet. He leaped off the edge with his arms out wide until the final second when he put his arms down and resembled a pin.
There were a couple of sights we wanted to see outside of Mostar, one was Blagaj which was accessible by public bus and only 15km away. The other was Kravica waterfall which we were told you needed your own car to reach or to take a tour for €35. The tour would include Blagaj too but to be honest €70 for the two of us to see a waterfall and a building was a lot of money so I found some ways to do it independently.
First we visited Blagaj and I don’t know if our host genuinely didn’t know the bus times or just didn’t give us precise information because she wanted to sell a tour, but anyway we clearly missed a bus by just 5 minutes and had to wait two hours for the next one. We attempted to hitchhike for 30 minutes but soon gave up and just waited in the shade of a bus stop. Blagaj was home to an Islamic spiritual house set in a beautiful location. It was nestled beneath a huge cliff face with a cave and a turquoise pool that trickled down a series of small waterfalls. It was a pretty sight but maybe not worth a two hour wait to get to. To make matters worse the bus back was delayed and we had to wait a further 45 minutes.
Anyway, we were determined for our next outing to Kravica to be more successful so I did a lot of research and discovered a bus from Mostar’s western bus station to the town of Ljubuški leaving at 10:30am. If we got off at the junction just before the town it would be a 6km walk to the waterfalls which was very manageable and we knew we could also try to hitchhike that section. The ticket cost €4 per person and took less than an hour. Once the nice driver dropped us off we began our walk and after a couple of kilometres a car picked us up. Just as we reached the ticket booth for the waterfall we unclipped our seatbelts to get out but the driver told us to stay. He honked a couple times and the barrier went up. Then he said “I live down here”. So he drove us down the twisting road to the main waterfall area and we realised we’d totally skipped the ticket barrier and the man had got us in for free as his guests!! My goodness we were elated. What are the chances that the person to give us a ride lived at the waterfall!
Kravica falls is set along a curved 25m high wall covered in jungle foliage with waterfalls spilling over the edge into a pool of emerald water. We couldn’t wait to jump in and have a cool-off in the clear water. There was a strong current so I stayed close to shore but Craig managed to swim across to the waterfalls and stand on a rock. Afterwards the lifeguard told him not to do that again and pointed to the left where a huge rock fall had happened two weeks before. It wasn’t as busy as we were expecting so we found a nice place to sit on the shoreline and enjoyed a little picnic.
For our journey back we decided to try hitchhiking again and quickly succeeded with a ride to the road junction with a nice chap. He had a tiny mobile phone, one of the old button ones we had as teenagers before phones started getting big again. He didn’t speak any English so he just kept repeating the same Bosnian words to us as if we’d suddenly realise what he was saying. From the junction a young guy pulled up, he was on his way to get his haircut so he could take us 10km up the road. After that brief ride we stuck our thumb out again and a sweet old man stopped and took us another 5km to a place where he was having lunch with friends. He was very happy to pick us up as his boss is from England so he wanted to practice his English on us. Finally a bus came by that was heading to Mostar so we hopped on it for the final 10km. What a successful day compared to yesterday!
Our next stop in Bosnia was Sarajevo, the capitol of the country. There were lots of buses travelling the route for €13 plus a charge for baggage or there were a couple trains a day for just €6. The train sounded much better, the only downside being it departed at 6.30am. So with heavy eyes we set off, Craig fell asleep for most of the two hour journey but I managed to stay awake and enjoy the mountain views with low clouds drifting by. We only had one day in Sarajevo as we’re not really city people but boy did we pick a stupid place to stay. Instead of booking near the bus station we stayed near the city centre…but not even that near to the centre as we were a further 1km up a steep as fuck hill in a residential area. We were a sweaty mess when we arrived but we quickly checked in and headed straight back out to see the city.
We strolled around the old town bazaar which was filled with coffee shops and locals sipping traditional Bosnian coffee which is served in mini copper pots with a handle that you use to pour into a tiny cup. We were delighted to find a great eatery selling falafel which we filled up on for lunch. The food in the Balkan’s is rather uninspiring with cheese filled pastries, meat and bread being the staples so we’ve been mostly cooking our own meals.
Sarajevo is full of history and while I prefer staring at mountains than educating myself we decided to join a free ‘War Scars’ walking tour. We’ve never been on a walking tour before and to be honest I find walking around in a group very cringy but here we go. A lovely lady with perfect English was leading our group of 10 around the city to some sights from the siege in the 90s. For 4 years an average of 300 shells were launched into the city on a daily basis. The shrapnel from the shells is what caused most of the damage and deaths to the residents. 10,500 Sarajevans were killed and 50,000 injured. The city was never taken over so it was mainly shelled from a distance and remarkably residents could still watch a show at the theatre during those times. That makes it sound rather pleasant but in reality locals all moved into their basements for four years, they didn’t have electricity or water and they gradually started burning their possessions so they could make a fire to cook food. They’d start with books and clothes they didn’t need anymore and gradually start ripping up their furniture and floorboards to burn.
Our guide said the locals have quite a good sense of humour so when someone graffitied across the post office saying “THIS IS SERBIA” someone else wrote underneath “no my man, this is the post office”. She also said locals referred to the city as Swiss cheese because there were so many holes in the buildings that it began to resemble cheese. We were led into a covered market area where locals were selling fruit and veg. It was a fairly hidden spot and managed to avoid being shelled until one day it finally happened. Around 66 people died from that one shell and the hole was still on the floor today. There’s a few shell marks like this around the city and locals have filled in the hole and the surrounding shrapnel holes with a sort of red lacquer. So it almost looks like a red splat of paint and it marks the place where at least one person was killed by that shell. Many children were victims in the siege too and we were taken to a junction in the city where snipers were based and bullet holes still covered the concrete buildings. The UN kept the locals fed by providing tinned food and one of them contained a sloppy meat mix which was disgusting but soon loved by the locals because they were happy to just eat. In a sort of jokey way of showing their gratitude after the war an artist made a huge replica of the beef tin and positioned it right in front of the UN building. After the walk we sat on a bench in the shade and spent the next 20 minutes watching a rascal little dog chasing down anyone riding past on a scooter or bike. It was hilarious to watch but I’d be terrified on a bike and probably wobble off into the brown river.
Our final stop in Bosnia was Visegrad near the Serbian border. It was nestled beside the Drina river with a long, multi-arched bridge spanning across the water. We decided to leave town for the day and make our way to Vilina Vlas, a spa hotel with radioactive water. It was 6km away and the heat was unbearable again so we were very grateful when a guy picked us up and took us a couple of kilometres up the road. When we drove past a cemetery he honked at a man to say hello and said “my work…I am grave digger”.
We walked the rest of the way and eventually arrived at a very 70s looking hotel. We paid €3.50 per person for a private hamman for one hour which was a short walk up the road. The hamman was built in the 16th century and while reading about the hamman online I discovered that the hotel became a horrendous rape camp during the Bosnian war.
We didn’t really know what to expect but we’ve been in a hamman once in Morocco and I can safely say it was nothing like that. This was a small pool filled with slightly radioactive water. I was actually dreading it as I was so hot from the walk that the idea of getting into hot water sounded awful, but luckily it was quite cool and refreshing. The ceiling was tall and dome-shaped with some tiny windows and every surface was a dark mouldy colour giving the room a rather creepy feel. I wouldn’t want to go there on my own that’s for sure. Seeing as we had the pool to ourselves we just went in naked and at one point I thought it would be funny to jump into the pool. It was at this point that I had a new appreciation for bikinis as it’s the first time I’ve jumped into water without one on and my boobs flew up into the air and remained in this skyward position until they slapped onto the surface of the water. My goodness it hurt so bad and I’ve probably gained ten years of boob sag from that one jump. Then we had the long walk back into town where we strolled around a bizarre little spit of land nestled between the river. There were some impressive buildings, huge mosaic artwork and a large pedestrianised area but there wasn’t a soul around, it was so strange. Now it’s time for us to make our way into another new country – Serbia!