Bosnia is one of those places that perhaps may not be on everyone’s list of places to travel, but once you have been there, you know you will be going back. In recent years, its Balkan neighbour Croatia has become a huge hit within the tourist market. Quaint untouched towns perched on the edge of the Adriatic were always bound to be a hit on the mainstream travel market, but this does not mean to say that Bosnia is of lesser worth than it’s Croatian neighbour. In fact, all it means is that Bosnia, for now at least, continues to sing out its own true character; authentic and real with no false imitations.
One of the epitomic countries that is lauded with the ‘East meets West’ title, Bosnia is intriguing because the suffusion of the seemingly contrasting elements from all the countries around it that are effortlessly blended in with it’s own vibrant culture. Busy streets are packed with cafés that serve Austrian cakes alongside Arabian shisha and markets that sell Turkish beaded scarves right next to the traditional European dancing clogs. In the silence of the midday calm, the mosques send out a prayer call against a chorus of church bells from the Catholic shrine. Bosnia is diverse, and it is in that diversity that its very unique beauty is found. Bosnia’s heart shape suggests the integral part it plays in being a Balkan country. Steeped in history of wars of struggle and fights for independence, the nationals are fiercely patriotic. Rebuilding itself out of the dust that the Bosnian war left, the country is not only an incredible ode to diversity, but also a phenomenal fusion of old and new.
One of the greatest symbols of the countries on-going reform is the Stari Most bridge in Mostar, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The bridge is a reconstruction of the 16th Century Ottoman bridge that was destroyed in the war, and is one of the greatest examples of Islamic architecture in the Balkans. It is located at the heart of Mostar, a city located in the Herzegovina region as its cultural capital. The fresh topaz-blue waters of the Neretva river meander through the centre of the city, and are the focus of many of the city’s events. In the summer, the most skilled divers of the city leap from the iconic bridge and plunge in to the cold waters as part of a competition that runs every single day in the hottest months. Markets crowd the city, selling all kinds of unique goods that look as though they’re bought from the ancient Silk Road. The city relishes in relaxation, and lazing around in the various cafés that line the river is everyone’s idea of satisfaction.
Travelling in the Bosnian countryside, you snake up and down vast mountains of green countryside. Alongside the road there is almost always a river making the same course, the turquoise waters intoxicated in their rush. Sometimes you will find an old ruin of a building that will provoke images of the devastation that the war had on the country and that reminds you of how the country remains in a continuing state of renovation. Perhaps one of the most tangible memories of war, however, is in the many graveyards that litter the hillsides in all the villages and the outskirts of towns – the traditional white gravestones reminiscent of the thousands of innocent people who were taken by war.
Sarajevo feels secretive. Perhaps the greatest thing about the city is its abundance of cafés. They line the cobbled streets, trails of sweet, smoky shisha curling around the mosque’s pillars and winding down around the gardens. The locals are extremely charming; waiters laugh and joke with you as though you have been a regular at their spot for years. The great mosques are beautiful examples of tradition Islamic architecture, featuring central courtyard fountains made out of mosaic tiles, pieced together in extraordinary geometrical shapes. Even in the rain, locals will sit outside on cushioned benches and watch the day go by with a mug of Turkish coffee in hand. This is the complete embodiment of Bosnian culture, a welcoming nation, rebuilding itself out of a rich history that, whilst devastating, paves way for a wonderfully diverse culture.