Bosnia and Herzegovina Detour

I’ve seen pictures of Mostar, a Bosnian town, tucked into the mountains, with a river running through and a curiously shaped ancient bridge, and I decided that since we’re in the area, we should stop by and see it.

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I will advise anyone who decides to visit Dubrovnik to make the treck up to Mostar because despite the borders to get through, the mountainous roads (crazy driving prevails in the region) and the nearly three hours it takes to get from Dubrovnik to Mostar, it is most definitely worth it!

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First off, borders. We took road 223 (Croatian side), which turns into M20 (Bosnian side).

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Despite the map suggesting at least five border crossings in less than a mile, we ended up going through only two. One on the Croatian side and one on the Bosnian side. With our American passports and non-threatening (middleaged and boring) appearance, we were more or less waved through. I did notice cars, however, being pulled over and cars being searched (one car full of young men had their luggage gutted all over the parking lot), but they may have been targeted for looking like young drug smugglers. Give yourself extra time to cross this border, in case the border control decides to take off your car’s hubcaps.

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Another thing to be aware of: there are police checkpoints along the way in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Not sure what they’re for (another shot at drug or weapons smuggling?). They don’t stop everyone, but they pulled us over once. They looked at my Danish driver’s license and let us go without even asking any questions (possibly did not speak English).

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Tourism is a booming industry in BiH, so there were definitely tourists here. But on a Croatian tourist scale, this was still a sleepy town.

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While most of Croatia is modern and rebuilt after the war, Bosnia has a lot more visible reminders of the Yugoslavian War of the 1990s.

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Much like Dubrovnik, Mostar suffered extensive damage during the war.

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That famous “ancient” bridge, which is Mostar’s main attraction? It was completely destroyed by Croatian forces in 1993. What stands here today is a concrete reconstruction of the original Ottoman bridge from 1557.

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I found BiH completely fascinating. I guess I was surprised to find a Muslim country in Europe!

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Bosnia and Herzegovina is not a completely a Muslim country. A little over half of the population practice Islam. About a third are Eastern Orthodox and the rest of the population is Catholic.

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Driving through BiH was a strange experience. We drove through villages with signs in Cyrillic (Serbs use Cyrillic), some with just the familiar Phonetic alphabet, some with both. Some towns had tall minarets, some had large Orthodox cyrkvas and there may have been Catholic churches along the way as well.

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Unlike Croatia, which seems rather homogenous, BiH still has a very Yugoslavian mix of people and cultures. The country has three official languages (Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian), three autonomous regions (Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republica Srpska, and Brčko District) and three Presidents (one from each of the major ethnic groups).

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BiH is far more affordable than Croatia (to fill up a tank of gas cost us less than half of what we paid on the Croatian side). The food is delicious and accompanied with local beer or wine (Bosnian Muslims seem rather relaxed about their religion. Very few women cover up.). Even though we were only here for a day, all the people we came in contact with were extremely nice and friendly. I’d say friendlier than in Croatia, mostly because Croatia is by now suffering from tourist fatigue.

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I would love to come back to this beautiful and fascinating place and you should consider coming here as well.

 

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