Arriving in Sarajevo after a really long day on the road was so relieving. We told Wynter about eight times that we were almost there and what we started out thinking was a four hour travel day turned into eight hours later. Long winding and amazing roads that were corruptd by swiper swiping and Dora the explorer in re-run, potty breaks, digging for snacks and all of us near tears. A long drive but simply beautiful landscape.
I’ll do my best to give our first impression justice though. Only a few cities have I seen in my life have this incredible rolling and mountainous landscape to which to the city is built on and around. I had no idea what to expect when we first came to Bosnia but I was utterly surprised to see what it looked like or if it would simply appear war torn. I mentioned in the post before this I really didn’t want to use Wolf Blitzers description of anything, I love how the situation room uses 16 tv screens to scare you, seriously CNN you must laugh at yourself some days.
I knew that the winter olympics where held there in 1984 but for some reason I expected a flatter landscape similar to Calgary with the mountains in the distance. I couldn’t have been more off. As we twisted and turned around our last bend before we saw Vratnik and the city I was litterly jaw dropped. Bright orange roofs roll up and down the hills making it one of the most beautiful looking cities I’ve ever seen. Then in the far distance the two of the ugliest buildings ,Holiday Inn and Avaz Twist Tower poke into the sky.
Everyone remembers the 90’s and the conflict in this country and I would be lying if I didn’t say that was a strong reason why I wanted to visit, another was that I knew that this country is beautiful and I’ve only heard amazing things about traveling here. Of course there is a strong reminder of the damage left from the war but what’s more impressive is that in Sarajevo you can see that most of the city has been repaired since it was left nearly destroyed. That’s an amazing feat if you ask me. We took an interesting tour of the city and the siege but the video and photos we saw at the war tunnel was enough to leave a lump in your throat.
Enough about that though. We opted to staye in a older part of the city called the Bascarsija and at a great hotel called the Hotel Boutique 36. The staff here again made our trip so wonderful, helped with everything and really made traveling with the kids easier.
What I may or may not have mentioned earlier is that there is one thing that we brought that has saved our lives. We took with us a small colllapsing stroller. I think it cost 15 dollars and weighs about 10 pounds or less. It’s not fancy but it is so handy and makes the 5 km walking days possible with Wynter. She’s a little explorer but she’s more of a Edmund Hillary than a Tenzig Norgay. I hear “carry me, I tired” often through the day, and Wynter says it too.
The stroller is simply wonderful, unless you try pushing it through cobblestone. Didn’t they think of that in 1400, or did everyone have Chariots? oh yea , they did. That’s just a recipe for comedy and anger. I’m not sure how many times Coll had to stop me, calm me down and say “relax” after the front wheels got jammed between stones and I’d wrestled with it in front of a crowd.
We stayed a few days in Sarajevo before taking the plunge and renting a car for a few days to make the trip to the Croatian coast and Dubrovnik (later post) and of course the city of Mostar. I was really nervous about driving here, the highways were fine but the city driving in Sajarevo is something that takes some practice. Parking is also a lesson in accuracy and courage. I’m proud to say I brought back the car in one peice, but that didn’t come without some sweat and a few close calls. I’ll also mention that I was invited in a police car along our drive. I may or may not have been speeding but they thought I was speeding, and 30 km’s over the limit is dangerous I was told. Lesson Learned in any country.
Mostar was such an amazing place. Very few places have I seen in my life that have such a great impression on me, this one was two-fold. Not only is this town and the Stari Most bridge so beautiful but it’s also so very obvious that this city was nearly completely destroyed by the war. Sarajevo has really rebuilt itself and it’s hard to really see to many signs of the destruction left, but here in Mostar it looks you right in the face. I’m not going to sugar coat it, every block has buildings that are left destroyed or they’ve simply fixed the facades of the buildings and the back ends still show the scars of years of war. Mostar is famous for the Stari Most which had been around for hundreds of years, 1558 it was erected I believe, and even survived World War II but during the conflict in the 90’s it was sadly destroyed. Painstakingly it was rebuilt and stands once again to span the Neretva river.
We had a wonderful stay here and had a great host at the Villa Fortuna. Nela and her husband treated us wonderfully and made our stay there really comfortable. If you make it to Mostar please give her a shout.
I’ll let the photo’s do some of the talking, but a few highlights from our trip there include the tunnel tour in Sarajevo. During the war they locals who were surrounded and without supplies built a tunnel approximately 800 metres long underneath the runway at the airport which they used to get items needed from a black market of sorts. I still can’t imagine what it must have been like during that time. Neighbors were fighting neighbours and I try and imagine that happening at home. I try and picture a city like Calgary surrounded and under attack everyday from the hills for yearss. I sometimes have to remind myself that no matter what I complain about I need to put myself in others shoes for a few moments and appreciate life. And another really important highlight was seeing the bridge and the spot where World War I originated with the assignation of Franz Ferdinand by Princip. As a young man I always pictured the spot differently for some reason and seeing it in person really made me a litte disappointed actually. It was a small spot by buildings, but I had this romantic wide bridge and area of town, like a square in mind. To some that seems silly but I truly romanticized it for about 20 years.lol
Now, traveling through Bosnia with children can , young children to be exact, can take some serious planning. What we found in Bosnia, is that it’s blessed with natural resources, rolling hills, raging rivers , and great mountains. It’s also rebuilding itself slowly and tourism is slowly coming back into play. If Coll and I were traveling without kids, the slow buses and trains, limited rooms and so on would be fine, great even but with kids it takes planning. The views are amazing and it’s so worth taking your time. However traveling with kids requires research on how long the trips are and where you’ll stay, where you’ll eat and stocking up before trips. Like I mentioned before, sleeping in a twin room just isn’t fun with ids. If you’re gone for a week, you can suffer a little, but nearly 7 weeks, I’m going to make this the most comfortable possible, even if it costs us a little more. So for accommodation, I’d use tripadvisor and thorntree (lonely planet thread) and really look for rooms that are family friendly, yea the partying is really over now, and do my best to find rooms that fit the bill. On this trip, because it’s off season we’ve been lucky enough to find rooms, like Hotel Boutique 36 and Villa Fortuna which were fantastic, but there isn’t really many more to choose from so if we tried this in the busy time of year we really could have been screwed.
And for transportation the modes available are great and ample enough, albeit very very slow. The bus (buses) to Sarajevo from Serbia took us about 8 hours with a transfer, and the exiting train from Sarajevo to Zagreb took us 10 Hours. That’s right 10 hours. It’s no real fault of the bus lines or the train lines, it’s like driving along the mountain ranges in north america, it’s twisty turvy, winding, up and down and along rivers. And don’t forget that we need to stop at every town to pick up others. Sounds beautiful doesn’t it? It would be if my two year old loved that as much as she loves Dora and wave pools. Sadly she doesn’t.haha
A few tricks we’ve learned when getting on a train with luggage and kids is this. I walk into the train car with the fewest people, in this last case one man was settling in at the same time we were and I immediately mention where we’re headed and how long it is, in conversation of course. In this case, we were the very last stop. When the others hear that they are sharing the trip with kids for ten hours they usually try and find another car in a hurry.haha And when we stop at a new station to pick others up (this kills me), Colleen starts breast feeding or changing Keir’s diaper. They are more than welcome to stay in our cabin but almost never do.haha That’s natures way of saying stay away, you want nothing to do with the Nash’s.
So when planning for long days, really long days, bring snacks, lot’s of snacks, books for the kids, a ipod or tv show player and food and drinks for supper. We really ate like crap yesterday on the train but we did have enough junk food to get us there. Next time more apples and less Willy Wonka Nerds though.
We’re now in Zagreb and may stay for the day before heading off to Slovenia. Enjoy the photos and please don’t hesitate to say hi…please say hi.haha
By posting this small series of photos I’m merely showing what I saw while here in Bosnia. I’m not trying to glamourize the carnage but simply showing what is still evident while traveling through the country. It’s a constant reminder of what happened and hopefully will never happen again.
With that being said I’d be lying if it also wasn’t a big part of the allure of this country. Living in Canada, we rarely can experience let alone imagine something like this, so visiting, talking with locals and seeing evidence of it is far more powerful and accurate than reading or watching it on TV. At least I feel so after visiting places with similar pasts.
A two month trip with two children as we backpacked through Eastern and Western Europe.