Sarajevo was an unexpected find. We did not intend to stop here but drive straight to Mostar, but decided against our initial plans as a near 9 hour drive in the intense heat did not appeal to us. Speaking of the heat (and I feel quite ashamed to admit this as a Bangladeshi), we have been nearly incapacitated by the Balkan summer sun. So much so that driving during midday has turned out to be more of a chore than fun. We drove in the afternoon to Sarajevo and it left us edgy and tired.
Nevertheless, after a good night’s sleep, we were ready to explore more of Bosnia & Herzegovina. After a walk around town in the morning, we headed to the Tunnel Museum in Sarajevo. As some of you might know, BiH attempted to break away from the Yugoslavian state between 1992 and 1995, and this resulted in a meaningless, bitter war that left many dead and even more displaced. The Tunnel Museum encapsulates some of the desperation and hope that people living in warzones experience. I cannot begin to fathom what that might feel like, but getting to see what seeking freedom might mean was a humbling experience.
The Tunnel Museum is based on a 800 m tunnel built underneath the runway of the Sarajavo airport. It is a stretch of underground passage, built by hand, in order to ensure the passage of people as well as food and aid during the siege of Sarajevo during the occupation by Serbian forces after the breakup of Yugoslavia. This 1 m wide, 1.6 m high tunnel, of which only 20 m is accessible is embodiment of the tremendous courage of the Bosniak people during a near impossible situation. Once again, going through the musuem, one experiences the meaninglessness and the futility of wars. It is difficult to grasp the true horrors of a war that took place only 20 years ago.
After Sarajevo, we headed to Mostar. What no one tells you about Bosnia & Herzegovina is how beautiful its countryside is. Once you start heading towards the Herzegovina part of the country, you will drive through breathtaking roadways with a Mediterranean landscape that entails barren mountain ranges complemented by photogenic river valleys filled with green, translucent water.
Mostar is well-know for its Stari Most (Old Bridge), which was built in the 16th century and was an engineering marvel of its time. However, it was destroyed on Nov. 9, 1993 by Croat forces during the Croat-Bosniak War and have since been restored with painstaking precision. What stands now is a restored bridge that reflects the beauty and grace of the original structure.
After a late lunch in Mostar, we headed to Kotor, Montenegro. Montenegro is slowly making a name in European tourism, with coastlines as spectacular as Croatia and rugged mountain peaks as impressive as Switzerland. It’s a tiny country full of friendly people, meaty dishes and warm Mediterranean climate. Whilst attempting to cross the border into Montenegro, the immigration officer took a look at my Bangladeshi passport and exclaimed bemusedly, “Bangladesh!” several times, almost to himself. Perhaps it was for the benefit of his colleagues, who said something to him of which, I only caught, “Schengen,” and I took this to mean that they were discussing under what grounds I could enter their country. This was yet another painless border crossing, and in no time, we entered Montenegro, albeit somewhat late into the evening.
Our destination was Kotor, at the Bay of Kotor. A small village near the water, enclosed by mountain ranges with spectacular views, Kotor is a little known jewel. The old town is completely sealed off to motor vehicles and is pedestrian zone only. You can easily get lost in any of the many alleys within the old town. Once you have had time to explore a little, the alleys don’t appear as intimidating anymore. Stray cats are everywhere. They are adorable, and while I have my reservations about petting stray aimals, I managed to befriend a gray kitten.
One of the attractions of Kotor is scaling its steep city walls. Right above the Old Town of Kotor sits the majestic city walls that, with a bit of stamina and a longingness for breathtaking views, can be traversed. A total of 1300 steps later, you can reach the fort that sits atop Kotor, allowing magnificent, sweeping views of the town below against a mountainous backdrop. The walk up is about 45 mins but with unscheduled photo stops (and there will be many), it can take up to 2 hours to do the entire hike.
After a satisfying short stay in Montenegro, we are headed to Dubrovnik, Croatia (a mere 2 hours drive), the pearl of the Adriatic coast.