From Istanbul we boarded a flight bound for Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sarajevo, the capital and largest city in the country, is nestled in a picturesque valley surrounded by the Dinaric Alps.
Before our visit, I have to admit I knew nothing much about Sarajevo besides its war-torn past. For those not familiar, here is a brief recap. The city was held under siege from 1992-1995 during the Bosnian War. Serbian forces took up strategic positions in the mountains above the city and continually bombed the city used artillery, mortar, and rockets for 1,425 days. Residents also became trapped in their homes due to the fear of sniper shootings. On one day in July 1993 almost 4,000 shells rained down upon the helpless city. The shootings and bombings resulted in the death of 11,541 Sarajevans and the destruction of 35,000 buildings.
Just a decade before the war, Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics when it was part of the now defunct nation of Yugoslavia. The Olympic venues unfortunately are now mostly derelict and abandoned.
Overlooking the city, Mount Trebevic holds the old bobsled and luge track from the Olympic Games. Here competitors raced down the 1.3 kilometer long track at speeds topping 100 km/hr. Dan and I decided to hike from the city up to the track to see what it looked like 30 years later.
We walked the 1.3 kilometer track from start to finish. The track is now graffiti covered and the forest vegetation is slowly creeping in, threatening to take over the track.
Another popular use for the defunct track is as a mountain bike course. Bikers now bomb down the track which is evident by the tire marks along the tracks curves and the video below.
For a look at what the track once was, see the video below from the 1984 Olympics.
Sarajevo continues to undergo post-war reconstruction today. While many buildings have been rebuilt, others still bear scars from the war including bullet holes. Walking through town, we had expected to see the many war-damaged buildings, but what we didn’t expect was how beautiful the city is despite its war-torn past. Sarajevo is filled with cobblestone streets, red-roofed houses, luscious fruit trees, and magnificent hilltop views.
In Sarajevo we boarded a well-worn train bound for Mostar. The three hour journey ended up being the most scenic train ride we had ever been on. The train contained old-school wooden cabins with windows that slid down allowing us to poke our heads outside the train to take in the awesome views.
Mostar lies on the banks of the Neretva River. The city is famous for Stari Most, a bridge built by the Ottomans in the in 1566 that is 28 meters long and 21 meters high. During the Bosnian War, Mostar was subject to an 18 month siege during which the iconic Stari Most was destroyed along with many other buildings and structures. The bridge was rebuilt using the same technology and materials as the original in 2004.
In the warm months of the year, young men of the town leap from the bridge into the cold river below once they have collected 50 Euros from the ogling tourists. This traditions actually dates back to the 17th century, though I’m sure the price wasn’t as steep back then.
A large portion of the population in Mostar is made up of Muslim Bosniaks. As in all of the Muslim countries we visited, the call to prayer (five times daily) was a prominent reminder of the religion of the area. The video below captures the call to prayer as we walked through the town.
Bosnia’s stunning beauty really surprised us. Despite its painful past and continuing ethnic and cultural divisions, this diverse country’s resilience and multifaceted history made it a wonderful place to visit.
From Mostar we headed east towards the Adriatic Sea and up the Balkan Peninsula. Montenegro and Croatia are up next!