Monday, August 5, 2013

Republika Srpska or can someone please explain Bosnia-Herzogovina to me?

Our last exotic country was Bosnia-Herzogovina. I realize this isn't on most American's hot tourist spot list. "I know! We'll go to Bosnia!" And, in fact, I feel guilty, because we kept referring to it as Bosnia, but in reality we spent very little time in Bosnia and most of our time in the Republika Srpska and Herzogovina, but Bosnia gets all the credit. Add to that, our guide book said, straight out "some people think I favor Bosnia. This is true." I'm feeling all sad for poor little Herzogovina.

Which, in my vast experience of handling international affairs, I think should be it's own country. As should the other part which I'm sure I'm misspelling because it suffers from a serious lack of vowels. In fact, the whole region seemed to suffer from a lack of vowels. Perhaps the Balkans and Hawaii could get together and share some letters. I think it's the logical thing to do. Where's my appointment to the UN?

Anyway, after our adventure taking a "short cut" through BiH (their abbreviation) which resulted in bribing police officers, I was apprehensive about our planned trip. But, Jason will not be stopped. Once he's determined to do something, it's very difficult to stop him. The border was a breeze (yeah!) and we were in, and driving through Republika Srprksa and having a grand time. Except for the part where we all started to get crabby.

So, we stopped in a town, whose name I've forgotten. We drove by a lovely park, so we parked and walked a couple of blocks to a grocery store. Going to grocery stores in weird locations is one of my favorite things to do. I love to see how they vary. We bought bread, cheese, meat, the strangest sodas we could find (except for Jason, who bought Coke. He may be adventurous on his travels, but he is not adventurous when it comes to Soda drinking. Of course, since Coke is having that "Share a Coke with [name] campaign, his bottle told him to share a Coke with Powkrsdjka or something, so that's adventurous). And on a random note, we found this Yogonaise, which is made by a Swiss company, but we can't buy it at home. I'm both intrigued and disgusted.

And then we hit the candy aisle.

I love candy. It's my favorite thing. In fact, when I diet, I just give up the regular food instead of giving up the treats. Yes, I will be dying next year. Anyway, we bought some weird candy. Like this:

It wasn't half bad. It wasn't half good either. We also bought some Turkish Delight, which isn't Srpskian but is exotic. And I bought a secret bag of M&Ms. Why? Because I love candy, and I've had enough experience buying candy in strange locations to know that "lips" may, just may, end up being nasty, and I wanted some emergency back up candy. (All those years of food storage lessons in Relief Society have paid off!) And you know what? They were AWFUL. Tasted terrible. I eat M&Ms like normal skinny people eat Special K, and I know what M&Ms are supposed to taste like and this was not it. We investigated and it turns out that they were made in Poland. I've had Polish chocolate before and it was awful. 

I was so sad about the bad candy. So, so sad. I gave it to the kids, who didn't notice and ate it without complaint. If I wasn't so lazy I'd write to M&M Mars and say, "Do you know how awful the things coming out of your Polish factory are?????!!!!??!?!?!!" but my Swiss friends think the stuff that comes out of the Hersey factory back in good old PA is nasty, so I suppose it's just regional taste, but seriously, bring your own M&Ms when you travel in Bosnia. That's my motto!

Here are the kids at the park.

We then walked into the city center to find a bathroom and buy a magnet. (We buy a magnet in every place we visit. You should come see our collection.) We accomplished both (although the lady selling magnets overcharged my by a whole Euro, but I didn't complain because I don't speak Sprskian or whatever they speak there, and I figured an extra Euro meant more to her than it did to me). Then we headed out again, on our way to Mostar. 

We got stopped by sheep:

The shepherds have their sheep graze right along the roads. I suppose it's because of a. landmines and b. the rocks. This whole region is so incredibly rocky and mountainous and filled with scrub brush that if Brigham Young had been a European he probably would have declared this region the "right place" and built a temple right in the middle of what is now a lovely landmine field. Anyway, all during our drive we had to keep our eyes open for sheep and cows which were always wandering into the road.

Jason's eagle eyes also caught sight of a sign for a cave that we'd read about in our travel guide. So, we took a 9 kilometer side trip to a fantastic cave--Vjetrenica, or the Windy Caves. This was a fabulous trip. Our guide was lovely and spoke perfect English. She said very few people actually visit the caves, which is too bad, because they were amazing. They have all sorts of creatures that live in the deepest depths--we couldn't go past 500 meters, sadly, even though she said it's paved for 2 kilometers, but since the war, they don't take guests past 500 meters. We couldn't take pictures inside, but we saw a real, live one of these: 

It was very cute, as much as a cute, eyeless, albino lizard fish type thing can be. Much cuter was this: 

Then we headed back towards Mostar, but first we stopped to take pictures of this!

Yes, real, honest-to-goodness landmine fields. The kids were highly fascinated by this and found it funny, but we tried to explain that this was a serious problem. I mean, how awful to live in a land where you had to be concerned about being blown up if you stepped into the wrong area. And, that "pozor mine" tape was the only thing stopping people from romping into the mine field. Scary and horrible.

Also, we saw this:

That's a really big snake. Really big. We were in our car. It lives in the landmine field, which, if you're a snake is probably a good place to live. No people.

Then off to Mostar. Mostar was the site of a pretty horrific battle during the war. They have a famous bridge that was built in the 1500s and it was destroyed by repeated shelling by the Croatians. They rebuilt it a few years ago and it's well worth visiting. 

We had rented an apartment and finding it fell squarely into the sketchy part of our trip. We couldn't reach the guy and it was in a residential area and I started to feel like, "Let's just go find a Motel 6" or something, which we couldn't because we were in Bosnia, for goodness sake's. Finally, we tested to see if the front door was open, which it was. And went up the stairs and heard people in the second floor apartment so Jason bravely knocked while I cowered in the corner, afraid that it would be actually answered and I'd have to speak to someone. They guy there not only spoke English, but said he'd call the landlord for us. Score! Jason's bravery really does help.

The guy showed up and let us in to our vacation rental and wow. Brand new, two bedrooms, hardwood floors, living room, kitchen, dining room, super nice bathroom and a back yard, with a sprinkler, which the kids determined was the best thing ever. Oh, and this is the view from the backyard: 

Yep, the famous bridge. We honestly could not have found a better place. Except for the spotless part and the landlord made it very clear that he expected us to keep it spotless and showed up in his boxing clothes, to kind of send the message home. Nevertheless, I'd even stay there again. Amazing.

Also amazing, dinner:

Prices in Mostar were exceptionally cheap. Their official currency is the Convertible Mark, which converts perfectly to the Euro--2 to 1. The cost of this meal, including four bottles of water, was 12 Euros. It was listed on the menu as a meal for 2, and we ordered the meal for 4, but the waitress said, "Oh, no, you have kids. That's too much. I'll bring you the meal for 2 and if you need something else, I'll just tell my mother." Seriously. That's what she said. It was delicious and we didn't need more.

Which is why, after dinner, we went and bought ice cream cones. There's always room for ice cream cones. And in Mostar? 0.50 Euro cents per cone. Seriously. Wow.

We, sadly, only stayed one night in Mostar. We got breakfast at a little bakery and at it in our back yard:

Then we toured around Mostar a little bit more and visited a museum about the war. Sarah and Daniel were amazed that his war happened while Mom and Dad were in college. Scary how close it all is. We tend to think of wars as something that happened very long ago and very far away, not on the street you were standing just a few years ago.

We visited the mosque and climbed up to the top up this spiral stair case.

The view from the top was worth it:

We said goodbye to Mostar and headed out to our next stop: Medjugoria. In June of 1981 Mary appeared to 6 children on the top of a hill and has been appearing regularly ever since. Or supposedly because even though it's a huge Catholic spot, the Catholic church has not officially declared it either a valid miracle nor an official holy spot. That, however, hasn't stopped a million people a year from visiting and buying glow in the dark Mary statutes. We did not buy one, since we already have one from our trip to Fatima a few years earlier.

We did, however, hike up Apparition Hill to the spot where the Blessed Virgin appeared. This hike is not for the faint of heart. Here's the trail:

I wonder how many people break their ankles on this trail. Also, it was hot. Very hot. But, there were lots of people and everyone was being quite respectful, and it is a place that clearly means a lot to a lot of people.

And that was the end of our Herzogovinian adventure. We climbed back in the car and drove back to the Le Meridien, Split, where we spent our last day lounging around in the sun and eating things. All in all, a fabulous vacation.

1 comment:

  1. I am envious. Our family vacation earlier this summer was a road trip to Dallas. You are 96% more glamorous than I am.

    Also, I think our kids are about the same age, so I am especially impressed by your adventurousness. Mine would have taken one look at the snake and/or the hiking trail and immediately demanded that we go sit in the car with iPads.