Name: Satyajeet Marar
Place Travelled: Bosnia and Herzgovina
What was your favourite city and why?
Sarajevo combines many amazing things about Europe in one place, yet it’s still a relatively hidden gem, yet to be fully touched by the tourist infestation that has hit many major European cities. Add that to rich historical heritage and you have a winning combo.
The old town is characterised by its Ottoman Turkish heritage. Move gradually out and you’ll see the Viennese style Habsburg architecture typical for the city’s Austro-Hungarian empire phase – providing both European and Eastern visions of beauty in the one city. Move out even further and you’ll see a modern city with upmarket bars and shopping centres albeit with tinges of Sovietesque flavour from its former Yugoslav days.
On a morbid note, the city bears obvious marks of war that ravaged it in the early 90s. Cemeteries and ruined buildings dotted with bullet holes aren’t uncommon. One truly gets the sense of a dark past worth exploring and understanding. Contrastingly, the locals are some of the friendliest I’ve ever encountered and genuinely love tourists. It felt amazing to enter small, backstreet bars to be shouted free food and occasional drinks on the house by owners and patrons glad to see foreigners visit their country – something I’m yet to experience anywhere else in Europe.
Five items that were absolute must have on your trip to Bosnia and Herzgovina?
GPS – Unlike major European nations, Bosnia is hilly and characterised by winding roads and sidetracks. It’s easy to get lost.. though that isn’t always a bad thing!
Camera (preferably DSLR) – There are so many photo opportunities! From ancient ruins and monuments to war-torn buildings and Ressaisancesque architecture and breathtaking natural beauty of the Balkan highlands.
Shoes for hiking – Bosnia and Herzgovina’s natural beauty cannot be understated. Making full use of the chance to explore means hiking up some solid trails.
Wetsuit – For those with the cojones – there is the Mosthar bridge jump, a 50 metre jump off an ancient Ottoman bridge in the city of Mosthar! You’ll need to come physically and mentally prepped though.
Pants with deep pockets – pickpockets are found throughout Europe, and B/H is definitely no exception. Keep your hands in your pockets and on your valuables at all times when walking through touristy thoroughfares.
Did you find any sights or activities down the road less travelled?
B/H is well known for its medieval history and castles dating from the pre-Ottoman christian period as well as Islamic architecture from the Ottoman era. Fort Blagaj for example is an excellent medieval castle from the first millenium and exploring it was worth every minute as ruined rooms and fortifications usually cordoned off to tourists for “safety reasons” are easily accessible without restriction. (NOTE: the author of this article does not condone reckless behaviour in the name of fun. Why the hell would I do that? That’s bad.)
What was even more fun though was exploring the war ruins including this random Yugoslav-era hotel we ran into whilst walking Sarajevo’s backstreets. Most of the building was destroyed and strewn with debris and rubbish, but that didn’t stop us from jumping a fence and climbing up to the 3rd floor where we found a number of interesting objects and graffiti – including a suspiciously large looking femur bone that hopefully belonged to an animal. And by floor, I mean most of the floor was missing and watching one’s step became essential. Fun times. Don’t tell mom!
#TBT to the weirdest thing to happen to you on your trip to Bosnia and Herzgovina?
The weirdest thing to happen was when our trusty GPS guided our 1990s era Skoda – ill-equipped for anything mildly off-road – onto a constantly winding dirt track for 40 km and well over 2.5 hours. We soon found ourselves driving across miles of deserted highland track, dotted with abandoned farmhouses and many instances of aggressive livestock. What made things scary was the possibility that we might get stuck in the near-literal middle of nowhere with no Bosnian NRMA to bail our sorry asses out.
But it all ended well and we got some amazing shots amidst the isolation and desolation of nature for our trouble. We also went across a small town untouched by tourists where we consumed some local coffee and made broken English banter with locals who looked like Russian bouncers but seemed friendly enough.
We later discovered that off-road areas are still feared as places where un-triggered war mines might detonate, relieving tourists of encumbrances such as limbs and spleens. However in this case, ignorance was bliss.
Mandatory student austerity question: What was the budget like for Bosnia and Herzgovina?
Compared to Australia and the Eurozone nations of Europe, B/H is a budget traveller’s dream. 1 Bosnian mark is worth half a Euro or 0.8 Australian dollars. What you’ll find though is that the prices are close to the same in marks as they are in Euros in cities like Vienna or Paris and this means you feel like you’re spending half of what you otherwise would on food and drink. 7.5 marks or 6 Australian dollars will score you a large, meaty meal at most restaurants.
Hostels are cheap too and it isn’t hard to find one In Sarajevo or Mosthar for between 10 and 15 euros (16 to 24 $AUD) a night. They’re generally great rooms in good condition with some solid local hospitality with a personal touch too which was refreshing. Our hostel in Sarajevo was actually a converted home and the owner’s mother served us some amazing Turkish coffee every morning. It’s also common to find hostels offering ‘free breakfast’ though this is usually something meagre such as 2 slices of bread with jam and an apple, necessitating a Hobbitesque second breakfast for hungry beasts such as myself and my travel companion.
Your best option for exploring the country and its breathtaking countryside is a rented car – yes it can set you back 50-60 euros for about 2 days at the cheapest, but the freedom to explore the countryside makes it totally worth it especially if you’re splitting the cost between two or more people.
#Foodbucketlist: Best eats?
Local cuisine is rich and meaty, though the roadside restaurants were definitely far less impressive than established city places. The cuisine is a mix of European and middle eastern influences and the most common dish you’ll find is the Cevapcici – a meat patty wrapped in bread casing and usually sauced.
Other dishes worth trying include meat skewers on rice as well as vegetables stuffed with meat. B/H isn’t exactly a vegetarian paradise and you’ll surely end up with the blood and souls of many critters on your greasy yet satisfied palms.
While you’re here you also have to try the local spirit – Rakija (pronounced Raki-ah) which is drunk in three gulps of a large shot glass and will put hair on all but the most estrogenated chest. Most bars make their own Rakija and it’s great to have a slice of authentic goodness – they also come flavoured and we were fortunate enough to try some Green Apple amongst other exotic variants.
What advice would you give to other people who are traveling to Bosnia and Herzgovina?
Travel with a companion who shares the same mindset as you. And that mindset should be one of planning carefully but being prepared to throw it all out of the window on a whim for the whiff of adventure. Don’t be afraid to strike up conversations with locals, even if you can’t exactly speak your language – just make sure you know a bit about the culture. And finally, spend more time in each place so you can fully discover it and seek out thrills that aren’t in regular travel pamphlets or prepackaged deals. Why be a tourist when you can be a journeyman? Growing a beard also helps in this regard, though I’m not sure why or how.
My travel mantra is…
Disregard monetary worries, acquire life experiences. And kebab