IN THE HEART OF BALKANS
The city of Sarajevo greeted us with bone chilling cold in the dead of the night. We reached Sarajevo 5 hours later than anticipated when temperature was -5 degrees; an experience which was just unique for me. We arrived at the hotel well past our check-in time. Any hopes of having a warm bed welcoming us were scrapped the minute we entered our rooms; for our rooms were just as cold as outside and we had hardly any choice but to curl up on the bed with four layers of clothing and one simple blanket. This was my very first impression of Sarajevo.
The next day however was totally different. It began with a hearty breakfast and a warm bath. Soon we were off to sightseeing. Our very first stop was atop a hill that was used as an army post during the war. It presented a panoramic view of the city nestled in the valley of the 2 mountains. The local guide narrated the history of Sarajevo which is the capital and cultural centre of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In 1914, it was the site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria that sparked the WW – I. The monarch/ ruler then had taken a bold decision of continuing the education of children as they were the future. He ensured that students kept going to their classes and schools in the midst of the war.
As we continued our journey and saw the countryside pass one can’t help but notice the continuous stretch of graveyards. The look at the graveyards filled with granite tombstones with all sizes from children to adults made my heart sank. It was a reminder of the terrible history that the people of Sarajevo had gone through.
Sarajevo has been undergoing post-war reconstruction, and it is the fastest growing city in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Today, Sarajevo attracts many visitors to see the monuments built ages ago.
As we passed the cityscape we came across an old stone bridge. 6 brown coloured stone arches constituted the bridges that connected the two sides of the city. A river gently flowed beneath the arches with such sparking clear water that I could see the stones and pebbles at the bed of the river. Near the bridge was a restaurant nestled on a slope with steps leading to the river bank. As we continued our sightseeing we saw many such restaurants.
Our next destination was Mostar. Once we had crossed the city limits we were in a mountainous terrain spread on one side while the river flowed on the either. Its banks were glittering gold in the the setting sun. The temperature got a little colder and windier and we stopped for lunch at a cafe. Enjoying a hot bowl of soup I enjoyed the serene view through the full height glass windows. Just outside a huge turkey was roasting and its smell was drifted through the doors. The hot soup and the warm restaurant gave us much relief from the extreme cold. Though it came back in full the moment we stepped outside the restaurant. However I couldn’t stop admiring the Mountains and the river and had to take a picture in the backdrop through shivering hands all covered in mittens scarves, coats and the rest of paraphernalia. As I gazed up the mountains I could see their tops just getting covered in snow.
Passing through such a mesmerising scape we arrived at Mostar. Our first stop was the fabled Mostar bridge. The river Neretva flows beneath the bridge. Though little is known of the construction of the bridge, it is thought to have been made from mortar made with egg white in the year 1566. The Old Bridge stood for 427 years, until it was destroyed on 9 November 1993 by Croat paramilitary forces during the Bosnia – Herzegovina War. A major rebuilding project was undertaken to restore the bridge and nearby buildings that had also been damaged; the bridge reopened in 2004.
As we walked up the stone steps making our way from the river banks to the start of the bridge at the top of the hill our guide was narrating interesting facts about the bridge. It is traditional for the young men of the town to leap from the bridge into the river Neretva. I shuddered to think that some would purposely jump into the icy cold waters of this river. Upon arriving at the bridge I was taken aback by how much I found it slippery and difficult to walk.
As I made to the middle of the bridge I saw a breathtaking view of the river. The evening sun had transformed the surroundings in hues that I have yet to see elsewhere. The green merged with the blue water of the river and the sunlight sparkled on the river. The banks were lined with trees. The lush green complementing with the colours of the river and some colourful autumn leaves looking very pretty. On the slopes of the mountains one could see the pastel coloured houses with their sloping roofs while a a dome of a mosque along with a spire was seen rising beside it. The mountains rose behind this valley their mountain tops filled with sunlight making them seem golden while the sky with intermittent clouds.
We crossed the bridge and entered the narrow lanes filled with kiosks selling the local artwork. The beautiful carvings on tea coasters displayed on their shops, the turkish lamps hanging from the wooden awning of their kiosks, the pretty fridge magnets and carvings of the bridge. The hangings sparkled in their cozy gift shops. Some shops also had handicrafts from bullets, copperware, hand-knitted pointy house slippers from wool. The gelato shop further down the street had the softest and most colourful ice creams lined on the shelves.
The shops were lined on other side of the streets with their wooden canopies projecting into the street filled with tourists peeping into the shops looking for the perfect momentos to take back home and bargaining for the perfect price. A small cafe with its outdoor seating caught my attention and I sat for a quick rest under the wooden pergola. Many such cafes along the streets had wooden structures filled with pink, purple red flowering creepers growing upwards. One cafe had a bunch of furry kittens playing about jumping on the street and back in the cafe. From my spot I had a great view of the Mostar bridge and the river flowing beneath it. On one side of the river I saw a huge Christian cross bright in the skylight constructed on the flat part on top of the mountain. It was a very peaceful setting and truly mesmerising evening.
We crossed the bridge multiple times and walked endlessly in the lanes of the street branching and turning like a huge network of veins of the city until finally it was time to head back. I returned with an experience of a lifetime, and hundreds of photos collaged into a precious memory.