28 May 2011

Vertigo [Bosnia & Herzegovina]

Every time I think I have seen the most beautiful place in the world, I visit somewhere new that takes my breath away. This part of the world is truly amazing.

But with the good always comes the bad - my camera is broken! I am not sure exactly how it happened - maybe it got wet or something on the boat? So I am travelling through this unbelievably beautiful part of the world and not able to capture any of it... Yeah, really frustrating. As my vocabulary is pretty limited, and my posts are mainly made up of photos, this one may be a little lacking. You will just have to use your imagination. (Luckily I was able to steal some photos from Sophia :D)

The bus from Split to Mostar was amazing. We wound around huge, forest covered mountains surround deep blue lakes. Driving into Mostar itself was quite chilling; it was one of the worst affected cities during the conflict of the early 90's. I was expecting to see warn-torn, crumbling buildings. While of course those can be found here (but not many, the most of the town has been rebuilt), what surprised me were the huge graveyards packed with tomb-stones. I am not really sure why I was surprised - it seems obvious that there would be large number of casualties... but the sheer volume blew me away.

The headline attraction in Mostar is the 'Old Bridge'. Original name eh? The irony is that it is actually a new bridge - built in 2004. The original 'Old Bridge' was destroyed in 1993, but the new Old Bridge was constructed using a large portion of the original stone, and the same construction methods - so it retains some of its authenticity. The bridge is high... very high! I am usually fine with heights, but looking over the side I have to admit that I suffered a little vertigo. The crazy thing is that they have a diving competition from the top of it. Madness! Some of the time the locals will 'busk' - try to collect money from the tourists and then jump off. While I was there I saw one guy on the outer railing trying to collect money. I waited for a good 30 minutes but nothing happened so I gave up.

The rail between Mostar and Sarajevo has a reputation of being one of the most spectacular in Europe. In my opinion - it completely lives up to the hype. The first thing to mention is that the train is an old, rusted engine pulling along two small carriages. From Mostar the train dives into a massive gorge, winding along the deep ravine, hugging the cliffs. It then climbs high up into the mountains, switching back and forward, through tunnels and over bridges as it climbs. It passes by lakes, rivers, small villages tucked into the foot of mountains, open green fields, forest. It is indescribable... I am not even going to try.

In Sarajevo I met up with my most-awesome new friend Sophia (who I met in Macedonia). We spent a few days hanging out, wandering around the cool old Turkish part of the city, climbing hills, drinking cheap beer etc. Just generally having a really time.

The effects of the war are also very obvious in Sarajevo - from the graveyards that stretch out over the city, to the buildings pock-marked with bullets. It is pretty scary stuff. But on the whole, it is a nice city, with relaxed, friendly people. I'll give you an example; I took my camera into the Panasonic store to see if they could repair it for me. The following day I went back to collect it. Unfortunately they couldn't fix it, but they were able to diagnose the problem. While there the guy also helped me with a number of strange requests I had - first I needed an empty box as I wanted to send a few things home... So he emptied one of products for me, and lent me a pen and tape. I also wanted to solder up my earphones as they are broken; he showed me to their service center and let me go for it. After a while it became obvious that it wasn't going to work - so he just gave me a new pair. And he expected nothing at all in return.

I decided to get my lip pierced while in Sarajevo, for no reason in particular. I don't have to go to work on Monday, so why not? So after a rigmarole to find a piercing place, I sat in the chair and the guy did his stuff. The first worrying sign was that he 'steralised' his equiptment by running it under hot water. He then proceeded to completely screw up the piercing - pushing the needle and piercing through, but not having the 'ball' ready to screw on the other side, so the piercing fell out. He spent the next couple of minutes trying to re-find the hole he had made, before he just forced the needle through and made a new one (at least it felt like that). It was pretty horrific. Sophia actually almost fainted. After some negotiation, and him refusing to give me any kind of discount... because apparently I was 'pushing my teeth forward' (wtf?), I gave him 75% of what he asked for and walked out the door.

On my final day in Sarajevo I had a bit of a debacle trying to send the box home (mentioned above) as well as a few other hiccups. I ended up back at the hostel with 40 minutes before my bus to Bihac left. I quickly threw everything into my bag, paid for the hostel (too much because they didn't have change), then ran out the door. The woman at the hostel said I probably wouldn't make it on the tram, so I should take a taxi, and that it would only cost max €2.50. I got to a taxi stand and they demanded €5. I know it is not a lot of money, but I refuse to be ripped off. Just then I saw the tram coming, so I gave them the finger and jumped on. I ended up missing the bus by about 2 minutes. But luckily there was one only two hours later. A small price to pay.

I arrived into Bihac at about 9pm with no accommodation. I called into a restaurant hoping they could direct me to a hostel, but the guy couldn't speak English. Instead, he called up his friend who could speak English, and he helped me out. Afterwards the restaurant dude refused to take any money. Bosnians are awesome! The hotel they sent me to happened to be full, but they pointed me toward another cheap place to stay. By the time I got there is was almost 10pm. The woman in the office was not at all interested in reducing the price, even after 10 minutes of my best bargaining. It was late, I had my big bag, I looked 'deshevelled' and tired... she knew I wasn't going to bother trying anywhere else... So I paid the €15 and went up to take a much needed shower.

I wasn't expecting it; but Bihac is a cool place. A nice cobble-stone central area filled with bars and cafes, a beautiful river running through the center. I spent a lot of the day chilling out in one of the cafes drinking coffee and reading my book. That afternoon I headed off back over the Croatian border to meet up with Mike and Andrea - two cool Canadians I met on the sailing trip. We plan to spend a few days checking out the Plitvice National Park - apparently unbelievably beautiful.

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