Neretva River Gorge between Mostar and Sarajevo

Today we say goodbye to the glorious coastline, spectacular scenery and the wonderful historic towns of Croatia.


Pociteij
  As we head inland to Bosnia Herzegovina there is certainly a different feel and look to the countryside. It's hard not to compare the two country's, as we have had such a wonderful time in Croatia with gracious hosts, great accommodation, good food fabulous service, and all at such incredible value.  Right from border crossing you are aware of the higher police presence, the speed and unpredictable drivers and the lack of smiles.  But least we forget that it wasn’t long ago they were going through a civil war, with some horrendous atrocities being committed, sometimes by people they thought they knew and trusted.  To build up that trust in human nature again must take a huge amount of courage and faith

Pociteij
First stop is Pociteij,  this had been recommended by the owner of the house we stayed in and local knowledge is always a bonus.  He’d said that although Mostar,  which was where we were headed, was the most well known world Heritage site, Pociteij has its own story to tell, and is quite unique. 


Pociteij

It’s a charming small fortified medieval town with a decidedly oriental - style. The architecture and materials used are slightly different from anything else we’ve seen up till now.  It is officially described as an Ottoman Mediterranean style of settlement!   



 Built in a strategic position up on the side of a rocky hill it nestles in and looks down over the bend in the river Neretva.  Historically this has made Pociteij more valuable to the likes of the Hungarians, Austrians, Venetians, and predominately the Turks.  





Finally the country's own civil war in in the mid 1990’s left it with extensive damage and most of the population was displaced. 



Mosque at Pociteij

But in the early 2000’s the town was highlighted as an endangered cultural heritage site an has undergone a huge amount of restoration. Life has been renewed with the return of  refugees and the beautiful mosque, tower and citadel and scattered homes are a wonderful site. 

We wandered up the winding paths almost right through the houses of the village to the ruins of the fortress and wall and were treated to a magnificent view.


    
Local pomegranates
Pocitelj now attracts artists from all over the world who gather here to paint, among other things the glorious red pomegranates and figs that thrive in this area.   We are treated to these delicious fruits along with oranges,lemons and kiwis on many colourful roadside stalls.



Fruit stalls lined the roads at times

Further up the Nevetra river we find the glorious Mostar bridge, one of Bosnia Herzegovina most recognisable landmarks and of course a must see for the likes of us. 

The city is known as a melting pot of cultures and religions, where east meets west and north meets south. For years it was an thriving trading centre as the bridge connected the traders, soldiers and travellers. This beautiful historic bridge was designed and built by the Ottoman Empire over 500 years ago taking nine years to complete.  


Mostar Bridge - too cold to dive today

But sadly during the 1990’s war Mostar was the most heavily hit city in Bosnia Herzegovina, in fact the city endured nine months under siege and its people were entirely cut off from electricity and food for that time. The old bridge was destroyed but with support from around the world it was completely rebuilt and officially opened eleven years later in 2004. 


Mostar old town
We wandered across the bridge and through part of the old town which is full of local handcrafts and souvenirs also watching a fascinating video of the bombings and rebuild.


Neretva River gorge


Stunning scenery through the gorge



Spectacular scenery as we drove from Mostar through the Neretva River gorge towards Sarajevo. Steep hills soon turn into harsh rocky mountains which tower up out of the gorge. 








As we head inland we certainly know its nearly winter and a far cry from the coast environment. It’s dropped a few degrees, the skies are grey and darker, snow appears lightly on the side of the road and soon we’re in the thick of it.


David, Judy, Nick and David heading into the mountains - a little underdressed

We wind though tunnels and then finally over the snow clad Bosnian alps and head down in Sarajevo.  Certainly not the most welcoming of sites, but its cold and grey, just on dusk and the fog is thick, sitting low over the city and the industrial area is never a great entry point into any place.  Not the picture I had in my head after watching the 1984 Winter Olympics here.  Mind you that was nearly thirty years ago!!!!!!



Sarajevo  - snow had arrived and the temperatures dropped


We only had one day here and it was freezing cold, rather bleak and very icy underfoot.  There was  plenty of snow on the ground and here we are rugged up to the nines and there are young boys out playing in sweatshirts. Delightful young confident kids happy to engage in conversation, practise their English and laugh with us.

Sarajevo

Initially we were surprised just how much Muslim influence there is. But as we wandered further there are a number of large mosques, synagogues and Roman Catholic churches all standing side by side.  A city known for its religious diversity and turbulent history, the main image I had of the place was those horrific scenes of the bombing of innocent civilians as it was ravaged during the Bosnian war. 


Scared buildings
Freshly squeezed pomegranate juice while you wait.


Sarajevo is the capital of Bosnia Herzegovina but still not huge, with only a population of 500,000.   It is vibrant and full of action, a multicultural city that has forged ahead over the last few years.  There is still evidence of the four year siege that the city endured but on the whole it has a great feel to it with wonderful hospitality shown wherever we went. 

Judy in the market



The Old Town market, Bascarsija, was a delight, very quiet at this time of the year but filled with such a variation of Turkish and Middle Eastern crafts, metalwork, pottery, jewellery, traditional copper goods, foods, trinkets and good tourist souvenirs.  Its been a meeting place and trading centre since the 15th century when the likes of the Asians came via Dubrovnik to trade there wares.  Fascinating to take time to wander through and steeped with history. 
Three cold kids

Sarajevo
The people were much more friendly than expected (we had to be careful not to let that those first impressions taint our overall view of the country) - accommodation was fantastic, once we found it amongst the winding icy streets on the hill, and the best value for money.  But even that had a good story, as we did get a little lost so found a McDonalds,( Free wifi) and our host was working so he sent the neighbours down to meet and greet us and bring us back to his lovely warm luxurious apartment !!

Doing our bit for the local economy 

We left Sarajevo under heavy fog the morning, an image of the city situated in a basin surrounded by huge snow clad mountains. Enjoying some good strong coffee en route and even tasting Cevapi, one of their local dishes.  Rolled spiced meatballs along with some raw onion in a bun - nothing fancy but lots of it!!
Back over the border into Croatia and one last night in Zagreb. 
Posted
AuthorDavid and Nicci Cambridge