airbnb bosnia, archduke ferdinand, balkans, Baščaršija, belgrade, blagaj, Bobis, bosnia, bosnia & herzegovina, bosniak, bosnian coffee, Buffet Fife, Buna, burek, catholics, Croatia, croats, crooked bridge, dervish, Diocletian Palace, Dubrovnik, Ferhadija Street, Game of Thrones, hamam museum, Luka, Marjan Hill, marko marulic, medieval town, mostar, multicultural, muslims, Neretva, orthodox christians, ottomans, pocitelj, Riva, sadrvan, sarajevo, sarajevo roses, serbia, Split, stari most, trams, Travelmates, tunnel museum, UNESCO World Heritage, World Cup 2018, World War 1, yellow bastion, yugoslavia, zdrava voda
This loop went through Split and Dubrovnik in Croatia, Mostar and Sarajevo in Bosnia, ending in Belgrade in Serbia. The absolute thrill was that it was with two of my dear friends Nisha and Aparna. Mad, curious, excitable and very very funny, these two and me, had the time of our lives. And here, all three of us, are co-writing this blog post to share some of the most delectable moments.
We came together in Split (pun intended). Me arriving from a holiday with the family in Plitvice, Lake Bled and Austria. Nisha from India. And Aparna from the UK. We all trooped to our AirBnb and were welcomed by our host, Tessa’s father. He was obviously a very proud Croatian: he quickly told us the best places to eat in, the very best ice cream shop (‘I know this shop from my childhood!’) and uh, not to spend money on bottled water (“Split has the best water system and the water from the tap is 100% pure”) We followed his advice over the next few days, especially filling copious amounts of tap water in our water bottles.
Our first stop from the recommended list was a local favorite, Buffet Fife. We walked by the waterfront and arrived there with hunger and exhilaration in equal parts. We devoured the most delicious grilled trout and left absolutely satiated, in mind and body!
The next morning, armed with this map, we first sat ourselves – European like – in a coffee shop nearby, Bobis. And after boisterous discussions, decided our walking route.
Naturally we started at the Diocletian Palace, the number one attraction. This is an UNESCO World Heritage site, an enormous palace complex built by the Roman Emperor Diocletian at the turn of the 4th century. We then meandered through the narrow cobbled lanes, the quaint squares and came upon the impressive statue of one of the early humanists, Marko Marulic. At the bustling Peristyle Square, we slid through (as you must!) a narrow lane called “Let me pass please!” and stood at the steps of the beautiful Temple of Jupiter. I then headed to the bell tower of the Cathedral of Saint Domnius for the best 360 degree views of the city.
I totally recommend it but it is quite a climb to the top. My friends deserted me in this expedition and sat around posing with their newly bought, matching (and IMO quite ugly) hats.
We lunched at one of the many cafes at the sparkling waterfront, the Riva. Here, we also bought our tickets for the ferry to Dubrovnik the next day. We did not forget (nor should you!) to touch the toe of the huge statue of Grgur Ninski. It is supposed to fulfill your desires 🙂
Late afternoon, invigorated by the highly recommended Luka ice-cream, we headed towards the Marjan Hill. Its a short climb to wonderful sunset views but the most memorable scenes en-route are of little homes bursting with flowers, children laughing and ladies sitting and chatting around. In the midst of this bliss, we found this home where the lady made stuffed dolls for sale. We sat with her for a while, chatting and sipping some delicious wine that she had made.
But the sun was still to present its full magic. We came back to the Riva and this time walked all the way away to the left of the city. Here, with bustling families and boisterous laughter, we ate the most wonderful pizzas.
The next morning glistened and gleamed and off we went on the ferry. It took little stops at several stunning islands before we reached our destination by lunch time.
Dubrovnik had spectacular views and sparkling seas. Notwithstanding its Game of Thrones fame, one can see why this city has so much allure.
But it was by far the most touristy place in Croatia. We had to plan way in advance by checking Dubrovnik cruise ships schedule to make sure we are there on the day that had fewer ships coming. The Airbnb was expensive, the host wasn’t welcoming at all and the taxi drivers cheated us. I guess those are the woes of all places that have massive tourist draw. But, we just HAD to see it. And we were lucky that we saw locals at their boisterous best – Croatia had entered the World Cup 2018 semi-finals that day! So, that one super day was all we needed at Dubrovnik. If we were looking for a few more lazy days, nearby Korcula would have done nicely!
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Mili, our cab driver, was at the door step next morning to take us to Mostar. Long hair loosely tied into a ponytail, towering, brooding eyes, measured demeanor, he was the first indication of what lay in store for us in Bosnia. From snatches of conversation, we were drawn into his scarred past – his identity as a Bosnian Croat, the civil war, his home torn asunder as his wife and son left for a safer Denmark but he stayed back. His deep love for Mostar and how he had fought to protect it. As we listened to him in silence and drove through the rugged terrain we knew that Bosnia was different. And intensely captivating. Our first stop on the way was Pocitelj, a walled medieval town, its contours dominated by the local mosque, high fortifications, and the river Neretva flowing languidly by. We walked through fig groves and came upon this beautiful spot.
By the time we reached our next stop Blagaj Tekke, just on the outskirts of Mostar, it had started raining. The dark clouds, the swollen Buna river, deep ravages in the tall cliff-face, and the monastery splashed in white – the effect was hypnotic. This was an old old place, the home of revered Dervishes, a place of prayer and reflection. And we were entranced.
We reached Mostar by early evening, drenched but excited. We were welcomed by one of the best Airbnb hosts Tarik. Spotless home, the kettle whistling and many types of tea, including Assam! For the Indians in us, this was nothing short of heaven. As we nursed our warm cups, Tarik gave us a complete rundown on where we should go. Since it had rained in, we did not do any sightseeing but went over to this gorgeous restaurant Sadrvan.
Surrounded by hills and the Neretva gliding past, it is easy to think of Mostar as just a pretty town. But it’s more than that. Actually, this is what kept coming back to us. Bosnia is more than that. It’s beautiful yes, but what makes it special is its determination to hold on to its past and yet take brave steps into the future. Everywhere are remnants of a tortured past…
Everywhere are people attempting to make sure those atrocities never happen again. And nowhere is it more evident than this bridge, the Stari Most – built by the Ottomans, bombed during the Croat-Bosniak war and rebuilt – and now the place where people take an enthusiastic plunge into the waters below.
We walked around all day, circling the small town, stopping by at the Crooked Bridge and the Hamam Museum, eating burek and sipping coffee.
We had intended to take the train from Mostar to Sarajevo, but there was only one train early in the morning, so we decided to drive. The journey was breathtaking and as we passed emerald green rivers and mountains, we wished we had taken the train. But, on the flip side, we got to eat in this restaurant that produces the most ultimate roast lamb Zdrava Voda
We reached our super Airbnb, had some tea, stepped out in the sunshine, and fell headlong in love with Sarajevo! This is a city for every emotion.
Horror. This was the place that triggered WWI with the assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand in 1914. And this was the place that saw the end of the bloody wars that broke up Yugoslavia at the end of the century.
Sadness. Sarajevo has had a wounded past – nearly 4 years of siege – and acres of graveyards to show for it. As we walked up to the Yellow Bastion for a stunning sunset and as we read the messages in the Tunnel Museum, we were overcome by a sense of loss and pathos
Joy. In taking trams that connect the entire city, in drinking from the fountains channeling pristine water from the nearby mountains, in watching locals playing open-air chess, gorging on strawberries, figs and peaches, rambling in the old bazaar Baščaršija and in posing in the streets!
Awe. At the contrasts – sometimes on a single street. On Ferhadija Street, there is a marker “Meeting of Cultures”. On one side is Austro-Hungarian architecture and on the other, traditional Ottoman outlines. In the old town is a seamless assembly of contrasts – Jewish synagogue, Old Orthodox church, Cathedral of Sacred Heart, Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque and many others. Sarajevo is an absolutely awe-inspiring multi cultural melting pot!
Hope. Bosnia, personified by Sarajevo, is a work-in-progress effort at living with multiple ethnic identities, religions and cultures. Here, different from other countries in the former Yugoslavia, live large populations of Muslims (50%), Orthodox Christians (40%) and Catholics (10%). This living together has been difficult but it is what makes Bosnia unique. It is also what draws three Indian girls, proud citizens of a crazily multicultural nation, to this country and its iconic capital Sarajevo. And also to the Sarajevo flowers – dotted across the city as symbols of pain and resilience.
Armed with oregano, dried figs and Bosnian coffee, the three of us went our separate ways. I took the flight to India with a fabulous day long stopover in Belgrade taking in the sights – the Temple of Saint Sava, the Belgrade fortress and the Parliament House. It was at the Republic Square, the place which saw high tumult during the Balkan wars, that I felt I had turned a circle….but ready to start once more!