When I was looking for a place to go after my trip to Rome with friends, I literally went to www.viator.com and looked at the possible tours available in countries in the area that I did not know or know well. Not many of those left in that region for me except east of Italy. I look at the tours because it helps me understand what are the key places to see.
I had pondered making Dubrovnik that next place after Rome because it seemed beautiful in the pictures I have seen and some folks in Twitter travel world spoke highly of it. As I reviewed the tours that were possible, I learned that there were 2 UNESCO World Heritage sites in neighboring Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro that were possible as day trips. I would say my ears perked up but it would really have been my eyes, not my ears!
That caught my attention as I have wanted to see more of the former European Communist block and those countries seemed a little less, what’s the word, westernized? modernized? than, say, the Czech Republic for example. I have been to Bulgaria and Poland and the former definitely gave me the best feel for how things may have been in the old days (though, certainly, these countries have made good strides to leave that past behind).
Bosnia & Herzegovina
The country is more often than not just called Bosnia but there really is a region of the country called Herzegovina so, at least in this section’s title, I will call it by its full name. But it is too long to type throughout so from now on, Bosnia it is.
Bosnia has had a VERY difficult and horrible recent history. I will not get into that except to say that people seem to get along well enough in the small part of the country I got to see. I will also mention that pockmarks of the violence are still evident in buildings around (that’s also true in Dubrovnik).
I ended up signing up through Viator for the day trip over. It was to be a long day (about 12 hrs). But it didn’t feel long and drawn out. First, though, an interesting geographical fact is that to get to Mostar (Bosnia, or “B”) from Dubrovnik (Croatia, or “C”) you have to do some border crossing paso doble. You leave C to enter B and about 9 kms later you leave B to enter C and then you leave C again to enter B and then proceed on to Mostar. See, back when there existed the Republic of Venice and the Republic of Dubrovnik, the RoD got along better with their Ottoman neighbors than with their RoV neighbors. So they (the RoD) sold a tract of land between RoD and RoV to the Ottomans to serve as a buffer. As history moved on and these 3 players disappeared or morphed or blended, that tract of land remained in what became Bosnia. The first 2 border crossings (C to B, and B back to C) were pretty easy – barely anything happened. But the last one (C to B the 2nd time, you following?) was a lot more formal and slow (almost an hour). The same would be true on the reverse, the initial entry into C from B was long but the last 2 crossings were cake.
We stopped at a hamlet on the way to Mostar called Počitelj (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pocitelj). It has a citadel at the top (which I didn’t get to visit) and overlooks the Neretva River which we followed most of the way from entering Bosnia until Mostar. It has really neat stone buildings and the town was of strategic importance back in the day. Besides the architecture, what caught my eye were the stray cats that I saw – they were tempting me to photograph them!
Mostar is an old town across the Neretva river (in Herzegovina!) where a very important Ottoman sultan asked for this bridge to be built (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mostar). Most = Bridge. The bridge lasted until it was bombed during the 1990s wars in the area but it was quickly rebuilt using the debris from the original bridge. The old town is very charming and, by now, has the usual range of tourist shops but yet it retains a different air from its unique position geographically and in history near important crossroads across different cultures and temporal kingdoms. It is hard to describe but you do feel it is a land with connected yet different circumstances throughout history than Dubrovnik.