Bosnia and Herzegovina: Our Travel Journal

A FEW THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO…

  • I actually never in a million years thought I would ever visit Bosnia and Herzegovina. Why? I guess I remember hearing about the horror of war in Bosnia when I was growing up. I guess that’s why there are literally no American tourists there. But it’s actually quite spectacular and seemed very safe.
  • It’s CHEAP! The currency is the Bosnia and Herzegovina convertible mark and the currency rate was 2 marks to 1 euro. The shopping is amazing and you’ll want to buy everything. And you should – you’re on vacation and you deserve it!
  • Why is it called Bosnia and Herzegovina? What part is Bosnia and what part is Herzegovina and why aren’t they just two different countries? I still don’t know. You should figure it out before you go and fill me in.

WHEN WE WENT…

May 2017

WHERE WE WENT…

Mostar:

So, on our ride to the bus station in Dubrovnik, we asked our Uber driver about Bosnia and Herzegovina. He said we would love Mostar – he raved about the food and the people and said it’s super safe. He talked about how you could sleep outside in Dubrovnik and no one would bother you and said the same about Mostar. But, Sarajevo he said, was a different story. He spoke of little hellion children coming up to tourists to beg for money and when said tourist removes their wallet from their pocket, they get attacked by some pickpockets lingering nearby. Is it true? Who knows, I’m still too nervous to visit Sarajevo. Ridiculous, I know. (I had some remorse today about not going to Sarajevo – we were so close! If I could do it over again I would’ve gone at least for a night or two to check it out for myself).

But back to Mostar… our bus from Dubrovnik was like an hour late which was annoying but to be expected with public transit in every other city than Portland, Oregon (I might be a tad biased). It was a pleasant 3-ish hour ride to Mostar and we had heard we should sit on the left side of the bus for the best views (which was true!). The bus boarding experience was a bit tricky as some people were assigned seats and some were not and storing your bag below the bus cost 1 euro and looked like it was absolute chaos (I put Nick on that task while I sat comfortably in my window seat, listening to my new podcast “My Dad Wrote a Porno”).

Wait, for reals, back to Mostar… we booked the most amazing room in Apartment Mana which is super centrally located (a 5 minute walk to the old town with a market a block away). We would laugh about how we legitimately looked forward to coming home (I wrote this blog post whilst sitting in the comfy living room of my lovely Mostar apartment sipping on a glass of cheap supermarket wine).

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View from Urban Grill

On our first full day in Mostar we started the day with a walk through the old town; to cross the famous Stari Most Bridge where professional jumpers collect 50 mark (~$25 USD) from the gathering crowd before they’ll take the plunge… or you yourself can PAY 50 mark to take a quick lesson and take the 24 meter (78 foot) leap. Apparently danger-seeking tourists have died doing the jump so they are now quite serious about their pre-jump jumping course. We had breakfast at Urban Grill which has an amazing view of the river and the bridge as well as delicious cevapi (aka “meat fingers” – ew). From there we walked to the central bus station to try to get a bus to Blagaj which was kind of wrong – you can’t board a bus there but you CAN catch the no. 11 or 12 local bus which picks up across the street from the bus station.




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Blagaj:

It was a 30 minute or so bus ride to Blagaj (pronouned like “black eye” but if you said it fast and it all ran together) with interesting scenery along the way; old, abandoned buildings that have been overtaken by plants, as well as buildings that were riddled with bullet holes during the homeland war. Blagaj itself was a lovely little town (they were in the process of setting up for what looked to be an epic Friday night market, complete with child’s bouncy castle). We got off the bus at the last stop and walked the .5 miles to The Dervish House.

Dervish House
16th Century Dervish House

The views of the river flowing from the cave and the Dervish House nestled up right next to the cave walls are pretty spectacular. We took a few photos from the river bank across from the house and then crossed the bridge to check out the house (which is actually a monastery and in all honest all churches give me a mild case of anxiety).

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Monestary rules

Then we had our cheapest tochinos that we’ve found in Bosnia to date at the fancy-looking restaurant right on the river and made the decision to hike up to the abandoned fort at the top of the hill overlooking Blagaj. We followed a road for a while; I was wearing flip flops and Nick was wearing dress shoes as we had NOT planned on hiking up the side of a mountain. I made the incorrect assumption that one would drive to the fort. Actually, the road ends after maybe .5 miles at which point you must take a small trail off to the right that switchbacks all the way to the top. Not only were the views from the top pretty epic, the fort itself was well maintained and there was not a single other soul there (except for the poor little pup that followed us the entire way up).

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After our hike back down, we checked out the market a bit (no one seemed to be selling anything that tourists would be interested in buying) and then located the bus stop and waited, for an HOUR, for the very NOT punctual bus (again – welcome to the wonderful world of traveling abroad!). We guessed at the stop to get off in Mostar and then wandered over to Restoran Babilon which was recommended by our apartment host. Aside from the cats pooping and digging up other cats poo in the flower box right next to our table, the views of the river from Babilon were fantastic and the food was delicious and so cheap! We were so impressed by our waiter who could speak 5 different languages! PS what is with all of the cats in Mostar?!?




Kravica Falls and Blidinje National Park:

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I didn’t trust this spot…

Our plan for Saturday was to wake up fairly early, rent a car for the day, and head out to Kravica Falls and Blidinje National Park for the day. We had researched our options and it was about $50 USD to hire a driver to Kravica for the day (it’s about an hour outside of Mostar) or you can get on with a tour group but we despise tour groups (both being a part of them and being in the vicinity of them).

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Also, we had read that it’s best to arrive early before all of the tour buses arrive (again, we despise tour groups). We’d seen a sign at the bus terminal for $19/day car rentals so we figured that was our best bet.

Mostar Shopping
Mostar shopping on fleek!

Unfortunately we overslept a bit and by the time we got to the rental car agency they all closed around noon on Saturdays. And they aren’t open Sundays either. So we hit up a tourist agency called T-Tours in the center of town and arranged a car that cost us $35 USD for 24 hours. Then we had a very unproductive day of wandering around the city and eating gelato and browsing the shops and then treating ourselves to too much food and wine at Sadrvan Restaurant to close out the evening.

We started our Sunday quite early to pick up the car and hit the grocery before driving the 50-ish kilometers to Kravica Falls. That was all after we took some epic drone footage at the Stari Most Bridge. We arrived to Kravica Falls by 9am and were the first car in the parking lot. We grabbed a prime spot with an epic view of the falls and spent a few hours sunning and snacking and floating around on our giant 2-person floaty that we’ve been lugging around with us since we left the states. It certainly got busier but we noticed that most tourists went down to the falls, snapped a few photos, and then left. No one really swam or got into the water at all except us, which made me feel very uncomfortable in my itsy bitsy teeny weeny bikini.

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We left the falls around noon to grab a quick cappuccino on our way to Blidinje National Park. The park was lovely but the weather was drizzly and we hadn’t done the proper research regarding hiking trails in the park (and we didn’t see any type of visitors center). Plus, in researching safety in Bosnia, I’d read that the biggest danger is the number of land mines that are still scattered throughout the country. And apparently they had the situation somewhat under control and then there was a big flood in 2014 which relocated  and unearthed the remaining bombs. One article I read said to stay on ALL TRAILS and not even go behind a random bush on the side of the road to pee – you might die. So I was pretty happy checking out the national park from the safety of my rental car.

Both sites were beautiful but I’d say the thing we enjoyed the most about our day was the drive. We made a giant loop; https://goo.gl/maps/zRXkX8fofhK2. The scenery that you encounter right outside of the park is truly epic; towering limestone cliffs on both sides with a green river flowing down the middle and old tunnels to pass through. However, driving on the roads in Bosnia is pretty horrifying; everyone wants to pass you at all times and especially right before blind corners, and big oncoming trucks often end up driving in half of your lane. But surprisingly, they still seem to be better than California and Seattle drivers (not to be rude…).

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Dinner that night was at Restoran Podrum which was recommended to us as a “locals spot” and indeed, we appeared to be the only tourists there. We had big big plans to check out the late night scene in Mostar but our lovely apartment and grocery market wine chilling in the refrigerator kept calling us home…

Mostar Evening
Evening Light in Mostar

IN HINDSIGHT…

I Love Mostar
Bullet holes still remain from the Serbian War

We LOVED Mostar. It was everything you want a city to be; friendly people, fantastic shopping, delicious food, inexpensive prices, pedestrian-friendly, decent public transportation, loads of things to do, etc. It was kind of what I expected Dubrovnik to be. We originally booked 3 nights and then added one more and probably should’ve stayed longer. In hindsight, we should’ve gone to Sarajevo. We did hear one negative review as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, but we also heard a ton of glowing reviews about the city.

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