War-torn and wonderful
Bosnia, a new beginning
The aftermath of war still grips Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bullet-ridden buildings, missing family members, and a landscape still riddled with landmines. Floods earlier this year wreaked havoc on the landscape, and previously known locations for the mines have been, so to speak, washed away.
As the result of the breakup of Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence. Bosnians Serbs (with the support of the Serbian government), and the Yugoslav People’s Army mobilized forces to secure territory. Fighting broke out and was followed by the ethnic cleansing of over 100,000 people.
Yet any reservations I had about visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina dissipated very quickly. Buildings may be broken, but the people aren’t. The Bosnians were generous, welcoming, and open-minded.
Although our bus to Mostar was very late, thanks to five border crossings, we were welcomed heartily by our hosts. Each night we were invited down for coffee and lokum with Almir who discussed everything from his growing family, the war, and his plans for the future of the hostel.
Our next stop was Sarajevo. The scenery on the train ride from Mostar was divine — we caught the early morning train, so there was mist curling around the mountains and rising from lakes as we trundled by.
Again, when we arrived in Sarajevo we were warmly welcomed into the home of our hosts. Dzemal is a young guy running the hostel in his family home. His mum was an absolute sweetie and loved to make us coffee.
In Sarajevo you can feel the effects of the war more strongly than Mostar. Sarajevo was sieged by the Yugoslav People’s Army and then the Army of the Republika Srpska from 5 April 1992 to 29 February 1996. The city was heavily assaulted with everything from rocket launchers to sniper rifles.
We visited the military museum and were amazed with how the city adapted to survive such a long siege. Although there was a large focus on necessities like home-made weapons and food production, the people of the city still found entertainment in things like theatrical and musical performances.
On a happier note, we ate some phenomenal food in Bosnia. In Sarajevo we found a sweet little tea shop where we had our first chai tea in a long time. In true Bosnian fashion, the owner sat down with us and had a long chat. We went back later to try their coffee and it was delicious. She served it with a glass of water flavoured with cloves, cinnamon, and a little sugar. Bosnian coffee is bitter so this complemented it perfectly.
We also tried a type of Bosnian ravioli with a yogurt sauce, and of course you can’t visit Bosnia without burek! Burek is traditionally cooked in hot coals and a lid, which is covered in even more hot coals, is placed on top. To serve, it’s cut up like a pizza and you can often order it by weight.
Which brings us to our next culinary adventure. Yes, I ate the best pizza of my life in Bosnia. It was just around the corner from our hostel and on our last night in Bosnia it was pouring rain so we popped out for a quick bite to eat. When we asked about the toppings the man looked at us and said ‘small or large’. Large, we said. He holds up a box the size of a table and we laugh and order the small. The pizza comes with a couple of toppings: tomato, mushrooms, a smokey ham, and a Bosnian cheese that was put on once the pizza was cooked. The pizza oven was so huge and so hot it took less than two minutes before it was cooked. I can honestly say this was without a doubt the best pizza I have ever had. I wish I was eating it right now.
I’m interested to see how Bosnia progresses over the next 10 years. In the years since the war the country has been replenished and rejuvenated. It’s a versatile place and if it’s past is anything to go by, it’s people are too.