Spring is coming to Bosnia. After a month of rain and gloom, the sun has started to peek more often through the clouds. And with the nicer weather, the mood of the city has also started to change. It is possible to see and hear kids playing in the backyards of apartments. Cafes have started putting chairs outside and tourist groups have begun to arrive. The American Councils took advantage of these outbursts of good weather and organized a weekend trip to Herzegovina. The three high school students of the YES Abroad program, the two of us on the BLI program and our program coordinators hit the road early on a Saturday.
Our first destination was Trebinje, a city 35 minutes to the coastal city of Croatia, Dubrovnik. It was the closest I had been to the border of Bosnia (not counting the time that I had to take a bus from Zagreb to Sarajevo when my plane for Sarajevo had to land in Zagreb due to extreme fog). Midway to Trebinje however, we made a road stop to drink some coffee/tea. Giving coffee breaks, taking life slowly and enjoying the company of others while doing that is a big part of the Bosnian (as well as Balkan) culture. After a nice break where we chatted and did some fake fortune-telling from coffee grounds, we headed off to a place 5 minutes away from our road stop: Sutjeska.
The Battle of Sutjeska during WWII had taken place there and the Yugoslavs had defeated the facists. A monument was made later on by Tito. Though most people think the monument looks like an alien spaceship or something of the sort, I thought it was unique and even majestic. Not to mention one gets a great view of the surrounding mountains from up there. Afterwards we hit the road again and were in Trebinje in less than 2 hours. Trebinje’s beauty struck us all. We visited the historic Arslan Aga Bridge, which in the 1800’s was moved stone-by-stone to another part of the river due to some constructions that had to take place in its previous location. The water that flowed under this bridge was so clear that all the plants and rocks under the water could be seen.
One of our program coordinators was born and had spent her childhood in Trebinje. She had only left because of the war. It was really cool going past her old home and neighborhood with our car, but also sad to think of the way she had had to leave this beautiful city. Our next destination was Blagaj, a small village in the outskirts of Mostar (our final destination). By this time, the windy mountain roads were making me really sick so I actually slept the second half. While I was awake though, I saw many castles on the roadside, on top of hills, most likely never visited by tourists or anyone anymore despite how old and historic they are—some of the hidden gems of Bosnia and the Balkans. I was told that I missed some more historic castles while I was sleeping.
It was my third time in Blagaj and Mostar. The beautiful blue water coming from underneath a rocky mountain in Blagaj was just as splendid as I had left it last time. We had lunch at Blagaj, with the view of the centuries old Tekija (religious school) built on top of this blue water, against the rocky mountain. For coffee, we had to run to Mostar, the city of bridges. Most means bridge in Bosnian, and mostar the word for bridge keepers. Indeed, the most famous bridge of Bosnia is located in this city. Stari Most (Old Bridge) was destroyed during the war. However, it was rebuilt using the parts of the old bridge that had fell in the water after being destroyed. Apparently, there are still parts from the old bridge.
I had a language teacher the last time I came to Bosnia, who had visited the original Old Bridge when she was a little girl. She fell while she was on it and the scar never went away. She says that she’s really happy to have that scar because it technically belongs to the original Old Bridge and she get to carry a part of it with her all the time. The previous two times I had come to Mostar, the sun was at it’s highest and they were hot summer days. This time, it was the afternoon, and the city of Mostar looked orange under the weak afternoon sun. While we were on the bridge, we saw a bride and groom crossing it as well. What better place to take your wedding pictures than Mostar, where the bluest and cleanest river divides the city in half with the Old Bridge on top of it.
After drinking our coffee, walking around the city bazaar and taking pictures by the Neretva River, we headed back home. As we were going back home, I felt more peaceful inside than I had felt in a long time. The nature in Bosnia, the people, and the history fill one with incredible feelings.
By: Enise Koc
Program: Balkan Language Initiative
Term: Spring 2016