Our drive from Croatia into Bosnia and Herzegovina was pretty wild — even without stumbling across landmines leftover from the war in the 90s, per Guillaume’s alarming research. Croatia is a member of the European Union but not part of the Schengen open-border zone, and BiH is part of neither, so once we got to the border we had to pass through one booth where a Croatian official stamped our passports to leave and then a second where a Bosnian man stamped them to enter. Shortly afterward, we traded the smoothly-paved highway for a narrow mountain road that was pretty much the opposite, as we wound our way toward Travnik.
We hadn’t gone far before Gui accidentally hit one of the road’s many potholes, shaking the Ford with such force that I was sure our tire had popped. Somehow, it didn’t, but he still took our speed down dramatically for the rest of the drive. That gave me an opportunity to soak up the scenery, including an older man leading a horse on a metal chain and two instances of horses pulling carts up the road carrying people and supplies. We also passed several overflowing dumpsters — I guess trash pickup is not so easy on such a pockmarked road — and countless partially-completed houses that, gauging by the laundry hanging out front, nevertheless had families living inside.
Just as Gui had gotten the art of pothole-swerving down, we were pulled over by an unsmiling Bosnian policeman waving a strange wand. I knew Guillaume wasn’t driving too fast, so what was it? Was too slow a thing? Was it the swerving? Gui maneuvered the car off the road and I nervously handed over all our documents — everything from our passports to our rental car agreement. Gui then whispered that there is apparently an issue of arms being smuggled from Bosnia into Croatia and the rest of the EU, thus police stops were quite common… Thanks for warning me ahead of time, honey! Sure enough, after a few minutes the policeman anticlimactically returned the documents and signaled we could be on our way.
Travnik was quite beautiful, despite the stormy weather that greeted us almost immediately upon arrival. Houses with bright terra-cotta roofs are built into the hills, with mosques and minarets dotting the landscape. The white spots you see in the first photo below are sheep grazing in the fields. Driving around downtown, we observed a mix of women wearing hijab and women without, all out shopping with friends and family. Finally, seeing a break in the rain, we followed a steep one-lane road up to the town’s medieval castle ruins for sweeping views of the city.
On our walk back to our car, we chatted with a Muslim artist dressed in traditional clothing who, upon finding out that we were from the states, said he would tell others the story of meeting Americans who did not avoid him because of his apparent religion. Clearly we Americans have quite the reputation. He also made a valiant effort to try to sell us gigantic, handmade stone axes that he insisted we would be able to put into checked baggage on our flight home, but we opted for a small carving of one of Travink’s cute houses instead 🙂
After Travnik, we continued on to Sarajevo where the hotel valeted our car into a parking spot for the night (particularly appreciated given that car theft is common in BiH). Gui and I were in the capital for less than 24 hours and it rained pretty much the entire time, but we both came away quite dazzled by the city; it feels like you’ve somehow landed in Turkey or the Middle East, with the beautiful Islamic architecture and minarets all over town. We walked down to the Latin Bridge to see where Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, leading to the start of the first World War, and then spent the rest of evening at a tiny veggie restaurant named Karuzo. In the words of the hotel receptionist at check-in, one of us was going to be hungry that night because Bosnians are all about their meat (i.e. me, the difficult veggie lady) but it worked out in the end. Gui had a yummy spicy chickpea dish and I really enjoyed the Buddha bowl, which we washed down with a bottle of refreshing local white wine. As a heads up if fellow veggies are interested: The restaurant is reservation-only and will add an extra 10 percent charge to your bill if you pay with a credit card. Still, like many places in BiH including the road tolls, the chef will take payment in either Bosnian marks or Euros, so that’s quite helpful.
In the morning, Guillaume and I visited Gallery 11/07/95 for an extremely powerful exhibit about the Srebrenica massacre, which chillingly occurred within our semi-young lifetimes. I highly recommend taking advantage of the audio guide included in the price of admission to get additional context. We also wandered through an indoor bazaar and stopped by a cafe for traditional Turkish coffee and tasty baklava — and were surprised to find in both establishments that smoking is allowed indoors.
We departed Sarajevo shortly afterward with the rain still falling, a bit sad we didn’t get to stay longer in what is clearly a very cool city.
Next stop: Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina!