A Surprising Destination: Bosnia and Herzegovina
Having travelled throughout Europe for the best part of the last four years (add another 6 months if you want to include my ‘studying’ in Austria), I started to feel like I needed to see a place a bit more different. I’d travelled to ‘easy’ countries that you could fly, bus and train around without any worries. So, back in 2012 I was getting to the point of where I asked myself: where can I go in Europe that’s ‘different’?
My answer was Bosnia and Herzegovina. How did this become one of my most surprising destinations? I didn’t know what to expect and it blew me away everywhere I went.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t aware how easy it could be to travel around so I did partake in a tour, but I chose a small tour group to try to limit how ‘dreadful’ tours can be. It was actually a really good choice in this instance, because growing up in New Zealand I heard very little about Bosnia and Herzegovina and absolutely nothing about Srebrenica. Doing the tour educated me in many ways and put my mothers heart at ease so that I wouldn’t step on a landmine (just kidding, those are mainly gone these days).
Surprise 1: The beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Town of Mostar
Think turquoise waters, stunning cobbled streets and a beautiful old bridge that crazy people jump off to make money. Sitting down at a restaurant overlooking this incredible colour river, staring out at the bridge and eating incredible good, cheap food was a great surprise. Mostar is a stunning little town, but like much of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the trail of war can still be seen in destroyed buildings and property.
Surprise 2: Sarajevo, a city still recovering from war
Sarajevo is a city where you can purchase mortar shell vases intricately engraved in patterns as a memento – and in turn, provide someone with a week’s worth of income for their ten hours of hard work engraving, at a small cost.
It is a city of recent history, where you walk along and often step across ‘red roses’ in the ground where mortar shell explosions killed people. Sarajevo, even more than Mostar, has constant reminders of the destruction the war created. Walking around the city with someone who grew up there, you hear about the stories of running to school trying to avoid the snipers, families that lost nearly everything and would put themselves in incredible danger with the Sarajevo Tunnel just for a chance of survival.
Today, people live here without fear. The city is slowly rebuilding itself, there are incredible spots to eat and drink, shops to wonder amongst and relax.
Sarajevo was surprising to say the least. Yet more was to come: Srebrenica.
Surprise 3: Srebrenica
This is possibly one of the most saddest surprises you can get. I don’t say that in a bad way, because I feel I owe it to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina (and myself) to know about what happened here, but it was shocking. I wish I had known a bit about it before coming, I knew absolutely nothing.
Driving out of Sarajevo you lose count of the number of football fields and yards that have been converted into cemeteries. Then you come to Srebrenica. An area where only half the memorial is full (which is still thousands of white pillars) because every year they are still finding parts of bodies to try to identify people from different mass graves that they find out about. But it’s not even the memorial that shocked me. It was hearing from a survivor and watching a film about the genocide in the UN (Dutch) Base – an old warehouse.
If you’re wondering what I’m going on about, the town of Srebrenica experienced genocide in July 1995 where around 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were murdered in horrific manners and now many still can’t be found. It still remains the largest mass murder in Europe since the terror of World War Two.
I won’t go into too much more detail, because it is something that everyone should read and learn about properly. Please do visit the links at the end of this blog post to find out more. I didn’t hold it together very well during this day, I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much, but it was eye-opening.
Srebrenica was a surprise destination for certain. It’s a town where most buildings are still blown/burnt out and very few people live because they are either dead, fled or can’t bring themselves to bear the memories that come with the place.
A lone man sat on a porch in the middle floor of a three-story building as we ate lunch that day. The building was blown out and had obvious signs of destruction. He lives in this one floor of the home that his three sons built, two of which didn’t make it through the war and one that fled overseas. I’ll never forget seeing this man, so incredibly alone, just as I’ll never forget Srebrenica.
Surprise 4: The stunning landscapes of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina isn’t all about war and terror and what is left behind. Beyond this is the stunning scenery of vibrant green mountains and waters, clear blue sunny skies and quiet towns. Tourism hasn’t hit yet, but it is only a matter of time, particularly with Sarajevo and Mostar. I’m pleased I saw the country as it was in 2012, still raw, still real.
This may not have appeared to have been one of the happiest surprise destinations, but its one of my favourite countries in Europe for beautiful scenery, clear clean waters, stunning, cheap and tasty foods, friendly people and without crowds. It was a ‘different’ destination and one that has stuck with me since I visited.
For more information about Srebrenica, check out http://www.hmd.org.uk/genocides/genocide-srebrenica
If you would like to see more photography from my visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, visit the photo gallery here »