So it has been a while since I have posted here! I have kind of been going through writers block as well as several drafts of a couple of different topics I have wanted to write about since arriving back in Canada after my nearly 6 months abroad in Europe (Read: The time of my life). But this one specific topic is one that is dear to my heart, especially because it can be difficult to convey how my experience in this country had such an impact on me. Often I will talk to people about the fact that I worked in a hostel in a beautiful city called Mostar for the month of June. Or if I hear somebody is traveling to Europe my immediate instinct is to tell them to go to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The reactions I typically get are a mix of “yah, cool” or “Really, Bosnia?”. Then I get a bit overwhelmed with sadness because I just want them to know how special this country is and most people have underlying assumptions. But to understand where I am coming from, you have to visit and really take some time to meet the people and learn about the country. Bosnia and Herzegovina is truly one of a kind, and it was such a happy accident that I ended up there. Realizing that I too would have never thought to travel there at the beginning of my exchange experience, I try to persuade people into feeling confident that going there will really be one of the best travel decisions you will ever make.
So I have sort of broken down why you should visit Bosnia and Herzegovina into 5 catergories: The People, History, Scenery, Culture, and the fact that Tourism is still picking up there. My hope is that you will be more inclined to visit after reading this!
1. The People
This has always been first in my mind as to why I love this country so much. The people are truly some of the nicest people I have met along my travels in Europe. I lived and worked in a hostel and the family that owned the hostel was wonderful. Specifically, Miran of Hostel Miran (And yes, shameless promotion because if you visit Mostar, you have to stay here). His family was so kind to me and always made me feel like a part of the family. From the minute I got off the bus in Mostar, he was there to greet me with a big hug and drive me to the hostel. He often went out of his way to make sure myself, guests and his family were comfortable and having an enjoyable time. He is one of the most selfless people I met and was lucky enough to really get to know. He would go out of his way and drive a bunch of us to the top of a mountain so we could make the hike down and really enjoy the view. He would not let a couple of euros or Bosnian Marks be a big deal if you didn’t have enough. I really have an endless amount of positive things to say and this was not my only amazing encounter with the people. I would walk throughout the town of Mostar daily. I frequented a little tea and coffee cafe that was right by Stari Most (The Old Bridge) in town and really started to realize how wonderful the locals are. I had one experience with the woman who made the coffee and tea. She was a more mature woman who had lived and fought through the war in Mostar. She was hearing impaired and spoke little to no English. Everybody who came to the cafe called her Mama, to which I also became accustomed to calling her. Our first moment together, we were both sitting alone in the cafe: listening to tourists flocking from both sides of the bridge, feeling the cooling breeze coming from the windows off the Neretva River and getting excited from the build-up of somebody jumping off the famous bridge. While we couldn’t really communicate, ironically I was able to communicate more with her than I have with some people who speak English. We used out hand gestures, we used our smiles, body language and just our energy. We were both patient with each other with no frustration. In that moment, I felt connected to the country and the people more than ever.
2. The History
Now, I am not going to delve too much into the history of this country, feel free to research more about it though as it is very complex but very interesting. I think this is a core reason for why Bosnia and Herzegovina had a profound impact on me. I was very naive before I arrived about the still recent history. While I lived in Mostar for the month of June I learnt pretty quickly about what the people have been through and I came to admire and respect their strength, their persistence, and their resilience. Of course each individual has their own story and their own lived experiences, so the country deserves more than just a couple of days for you to discover these. I just kept thinking: these people have been through so much, have lost dear friends and family, yet still were some of the most kind, selfless, and humble people I met throughout my travels. Then there was a place in Mostar called Sniper Tower which was used throughout the war for exactly what it sounds like. You can still see history with your own eyes whether it is bullet holes in buildings, the sniper holes in this tower, or shattered concrete and debris. But I went to the roof of this tower on numerous occasions with different people every time and would watch the sunset in the valley. Standing on top of a place that once created terror, but using it for something positive is one of my fondest memories. The tower also had many displays of street art with political and social messages. But this one particular message has always stood out to me and continues to be a constant inspiration.
The scenery in Bosnia and Herzegovina is jaw-dropping and stunning. I had no idea before I arrived how incredibly spectacular and out of this world everything is. From the jade-emerald green Neretva River, to picturesque Sarajevo, this country is truly underrated for it’s beauty. Here are some pictures that will just do more justice than words ever will. All pictures unless otherwise stated were taken by me from my own device.
Sitting on top of the beautiful 3000 year old town Pocitelj
The gorgous sunset in Mostar from the roof of Sniper Tower
The sunset in the capital city of Sarajevo
The cobblestone streets in Mostar’s Old Town
The gorgous Neretva River
4. The Culture
I have never felt more at peace throughout my travels than while in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The culture and the pace of life are completely different than what I am normally used to. People welcome you into your home with open arms and everyone knows everybody. Even though money is a barrier for many people, money is still NOT a barrier. The locals that I met and made connections with would rather lose all their monetary possessions if it meant that they could just be with their loved ones. In addition they would rather YOU not fret about a few Euros here and there (Or Bosnian marks), then take your money for that one cup of coffee. In Bosnia and Herzegovina I found the day-to-day movement to be at a much slower pace, with time to take breaks and enjoy life, rather than busily going about their days numb to anybody and anything around them. There was no such thing as coffee to go, and I rarely saw people plugged into their phones and ipods. Then in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Muslims, Orthodox, Catholics, and Jews all reside in the country and it is truly a place where East meets West. In fact, there is an exact spot in Sarajevo called the meeting of cultures. You look to one side and you see the mark of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and then you look to the other side and you see the mark of the Ottoman Empire: a mini Vienna and a mini Istanbul both in one city. And then I cannot forget about the food! Whether it was Bosnian coffee, cevapi (minced meat kebab stuffed in a pita), baklava or borek (flaky dough pastries usually filled with meat or spinach and cheese), my stomach was always satisfied!
photo taken from Google
5. Tourism is still picking up
Unfortunately, people continue to misconceive today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina with how the country was when the war ended in 1995. Although there are signs of the war as I previously mentioned, the country’s beauty and all it has to offer should not be missed. It is continuously rebuilding itself and as time goes on, more people will be visiting this remarkable country. But right now is the perfect time to visit if you want to skip out on super crowded/touristic areas. You will help the country’s future tourism industry grow and you will enjoy it while it is a bit more calm and tourism is still kicking in.
I have no doubt that tourism will pick up in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It really disheartens me when I talk to people about my experience here and they seem so surprised as I begin to explain how special and amazing it is. I really hope this post has inspired you in some way to make a visit to this country or at least consider it. It is truly undermined and underrated. If you travel here, you will see exactly why it shouldn’t be and you will see why I fell in love with it.