Today began with a gorgeous drive. My pictures cannot possibly capture how amazing the Croatian coastline is. The way the mountains hit the sea and the road curves around them is why we're here- everybody who has ever told us about this is at the same loss for words that I am when they try to describe the beauty. An hour and something into the drive along the Adriatic road, we came to the first "mini border." In the 1600s, an earthquake devastated Durovnik. As the price of assisting them rebuild, the Ottomans requested payment in the form of a seaport. So, a small, 9km long piece of the coast was given to them. As that empire fell and others arose (and fell), that area remained part of the Herzegovina district and not part of Croatian districts, including to today. So, in order to get from Dubrovnik ("the peninsula") to the rest of Croatia ("the mainland"), you have to cross Bosnia Herzegovina. The border here is a transit border, so they really just asked the guide who was on the bus. When she replied tourists from all of our countries, they just let us through. That marks the moment when the list of European countries that I haven't been to got shorter than the list of European countries I have been to. We had a little "happy half Europe" celebration on the bus. We stopped at a convenience store for a snack and a break before heading through more of absolutely stunning Croatian coastline to the real border with Bosnia Herzegovina. The guide explained to us that Herzogovina means "dukes land" because that region used to be ruled by Dukes, and Bosnia is a reference to the river flowing through the rest of the country. Together, they form the name of the country- the duke's land and the land of the river. This time, the border crossing wasn't so quick. We gave the guide our passports and pulled over into a bus parking lot for about 40 minutes. Apparently that's a normal (or even short) amount of time for the high season (July/August), but an unusually long amount of time for September. Most of us took advantage of that as naptime so that we could stay awake and see the rest of the gorgeous scenery that we would be passing. We passed an ancient Turkish town that was still sort of in use and a gorgeous farming valley that used to be a swamp until the people drained it before turning on the road to Mostar. Mostar is a pretty city located on a river in the mountains. Like everywhere here, that didn't stop it from getting bombed in the war. Bosnia was sort of worse in that the country itself is very mixed. One day, people were neighbors and family, and the next they were caught up on the other side of a war than their friends and spouses. Apparently many of the "mixed" couples tried to leave before things got too bad, but many of them suffered for their love, and just suffered or died in general. This is evidenced by the in-town graveyards. Usually, they buried people away from the towns, but during the war, they couldn't get that far. So what used to be the town's parks and playing fields turned into graveyards. In each of these ad-hoc graveyards, you can see that every tombstone has a death date of the early 90s (during the war). It makes me wonder if in another 20 years people are going to go to Syria and look around and make the same comments about the devastation and destruction and why the world let it go on so long. The other visible reminder of the war were all of the buildings. Many had been blown up and abandoned to the point where trees were now growing inside. Others just had big chunks of wall missing in some areas, or a series of bullet holes. And the ones that looked fresh and new looked that way because they were rebuilt recently due to the destruction of the war.
But there is more to Mostar than the war. Mostar has a long history. We started our tour in an old Turkish home that has been kept in the old style. We were able to see the old style carpets, carvings, and clothing. We had a local guide who told us all about their culture, but she was very young and nervous, and I would guess new at this. She held up the funny pants that they wore and offered them to us to try on, but before I had 2 seconds to process and say I'd try them, she had already decided that nobody wanted to and had put them back in the box. In general, she was a little nervous-giggly and seemed to do better answering questions 1-on-1 than speaking to the group. Especially compared to our normal guide, who is amazing, I'm not quite sure this local guide was ready for prime-time. But, she does have a lot of potential. Another year or so with some guidance and I think she could be really good. From the Turkish house, we headed to the local mosque. They made us take off our shoes, but didn't make us cover our heads, which was a bit surprising. The mosque is very small, with room for only a small crowd, but like all mosques I've been in, was very nicely decorated. The oriental carpets, the wall paintings, the chandelier- all were clearly made with care and artistic skill. However, as it is just one small room, we didn't spend a lot of time there. We headed over to the shuk, which also had tons of stuff made with artistic skill. I was very impressed with the stained-glass lamps there, the hammered metal works, and even one of the artists who was selling his paintings. There were silk (and fake silk) scarves with beautiful designs on them, amazingly-detailed decorated bowls and ceramics, and even some mugs I was considering getting. (But it's too early in the trip to be buying breakables.) We ended the guided part of the tour by the famous bridge. It was originally built long ago, but was destroyed in the war and rebuilt. Every year, they have diving competitions from it, but even on a regular day, there are guys there who will jump the 30+ meters into the water below- for a price. The guide suggested that once they got 20 euro, they jumped, but that seemed realyl low to me as it might only take a few people and they'd be jumping a lot. On the bridge, I overheard 50, which sounded a bit more like it. We didn't actually see anybody jump, but at one point the crowd on the bridge all dispersed, so I think we just missed it. According to the guide, for 20 euro they will let tourists jump, which I wish I had known about ahead of time so I could bring my swimsuit. I think it would be awesome to do the jump, although my parents probably wouldn't have let me. So, I didn't jump off the bridge, but I did cross it, and it was pretty slippery. They built in footholds every once in a while, but people were still slipping and losing their footing a bit. The other side of the bridge was just more shuk, but at least we found an ATM. One thing I've learned about the world is that outside of the US, you absolutely need local cash. It came in handy because our lunch stop only took cash. Again, I was underwhelmed with the food here. I liked that the bureks were chewier than I was used to, but the filling was not particularly great. I'm still hoping for something great at some point, but I'm afraid that I'm not going to get it. My parents got the local dish (just say tchitchitchitchi and they'll know what you're talking about) and thought it was ok, but not ok enough to finish it. We continued looking around the shuk for a while until it was time to meet up with our group and head off to Sarajevo. Again, the drive through the lush, green mountains was gorgeous. We saw all sorts of small farms with their local-style haystacks, lots of garden plots full of squash, and some great views across the river. Sarajevo is a pretty city because it is nestled in the mountains and built up the hills. However, there are still signs of destruction and some buildings they have intentionally left as reminders of the war. Our hotel is not one of them. This may be the nicest hotel I've ever stayed in. The bathroom was bigger than my kitchen. The bedroom some very fancy furniture, and was also huge- much bigger than my bedroom at home. Everything was spotless. The hotel has a spa, but also a billards hall and bowling alley. The restaurant on top is a rotating restaurant-but more about that later. After dropping our stuff at the hotel, we headed into town for a tour. This local guide was much better than the last. He was a bit focused on getting us good photos of various landmarks, but otherwise did a good job of showing us the interesting sights, telling us interesting stories about the history of the city, and making recommendations for what to do with our free time after the tour. One of the points I had heard several times from other guides as well as this one was that Tito wanted Yugoslavia to be prepared for WW3. As a result, he built small military bases in all of the cities in Yugoslavia. He made use of many of the already-existing forts or turned them into barracks. He (with Russian help) set up many arms factories that helped the people here stay in the money during his regime and helped make life better for everybody. It was only after he fell that the over-militarization became a problem. A lot of our tour consisted of some of the background history as to why Tito may have been so concerned about wars and why he wanted the region to stay strong. We spent quite some time in the old Ottoman part of town as the Ottomans controlled Sarajevo for hundreds of years and left their mark on the city. The old bazar is Ottoman, and even the name of the city is somewhat Ottoman. It comes from the word sarai- meaning the place the Ottoman caravans stopped for the night and also the word for field (Sarai-evo). We saw one such sarai, although now they have shops where the pack animals would have slept and people live (I think) where the travelers would have slept. After the Ottomans were kicked out, the Austrians moved in. There is a spot in town where you can stand and look left to see old Turkish-style architecture and then look right and everything looks very Hapsburg. And of course, not everybody was happy about the Austrians being in charge. In fact, on one fateful visit to Sarajevo, some youths assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand. (We got to stand on the exact corner he was shot. It is commemorated with plaques and a picture display.) This, of course, angered the Austrians, and ultimately led to the whole region, all of their colonies, and ultimately much of the world being caught up in a war that brought down the Ottoman, German, and Hapsburg empires and changed the map of the world. The various conquerors left their mark on the city's religious makeup as well. There is a small area that they call "Little Jerusalem" because it contains a mosque, synagogue, Orthodox church, and Catholic church. (The Ottomans brought Islam and absorbed the Jews that were expelled from Spain in 1492, the Austrians brought Catholicism, and the Orthodox church comes from the Serbians before the Ottomans.) After the tour of all of these areas, our guide let us loose and we wandered around the same area, but digging deeper into the things we passed.
Dinner was at the hotel's revolving restaurant, which had a great view of the city lights. The dinner was fancy and tasty, although somewhat dampened by all the smoke in the air. I had to shower before bed in order to get the reek out of my hair.
Drive from Dubrovnik
Drive from Dubrovnik
Drive through Herzegovina
Fields of Herzegovina
At the Turkish House
Glass lamps at shuk
Mostar from the bridge
Drive to Sarajevo
Austrian-built pseudo-Moorich architecture