We sat down for a bite to eat before getting back in our car and making our way north towards Jajce.
We chose to avoid the toll road and take the winding routes instead. Along the way we stopped at a town, Visoko, that is home to the ‘Bosnian Pyramids‘. There is speculation online about whether these are naturally pyramid-shaped mountains, or if they were created by a civilisation at some point in history. Back in Mostar, Esmer had explained how large portions of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s history, and the Balkan region in general, is unknown and could lend some credibility to these claims. However, it also appears widely accepted that they are no more than ‘pointy hills’, with no evidence to support the counter claim. For what it’s worth, from driving past, we found ourselves struggling to pick out one that was any more ‘pyramid like’ than the other mountains, and if it weren’t for the signs and the fort on one side, we may have missed it altogether.
After driving through dozens towns and villages, over a mountain bearing more scars of war, sticks and bottles denoting minefields and stray dogs seemingly exploring the wilderness, we arrived in Jajce. The views all along the way were simply breathtaking, and Jajce didn’t disappoint either.
The sun was beginning to set when we finally ventured out of our apartment into the town, but the long, random, winding paths through a mixture of old architecture, some that did and some that didn’t survive the 90’s conflict, the barking of stray dogs, which is definitely still a significant problem here, and the orange blink of fireflies in the gardens, Jajce really does come across as a magical town. We walked up to the fortress and back down to the town in order to get some tea and beer, before slowly making our way back for the night.
Pliva Waterfall under the city of Jajce, with the fortress at the highest point
Venturing out into Jajce for our final, full day in Bosnia, it was incredibly hot and humid. Walking through the park at around 32 degrees was difficult but enjoyable, as we ducked into any shade we found. We made our way down to the famous waterfalls. A beautiful view of the staggering Pliva waterfalls that sit perfectly under the town – and within splashing distance which did us, although maybe not the camera, the world of good. There was a small entry fee (a couple of pounds), but despite this it’s remarkable how quiet it is, and how few people are around in general. The whole town in fact seems to be somewhat off the grid, but such a staggering picture makes it almost inevitable that the peace won’t last in the coming years. On our way, we picked up some souvenirs, before deciding to come back later on for another photograph.
We made our way back into town, stopping at a restaurant for some lunch, before retracing our steps from the day before. Through the old gates, and up the hill, we went past the old finance house and school before making it to the catacombs. The catacombs are an underground crypt built around 1400, and said to have been a hiding place for Tito at times during the second World War. Although they’re small, the historical significance is apparent, though admittedly the first thing that struck us was how instantly cooling it was, making it worth the 2 Mark entrance fee alone!
We then made our way to the top of the city to look around the fortress that overlooks the town. It offers a beautiful panoramic view of the city and surrounding mountains, though in the humidity and without a drink, we didn’t stick around before seeking out a supermarket.
Later that day we went back to the waterfall and decided to follow the road around to try and get a ‘postcard’ picture. We did have to venture off the roads into the undergrowth, something that is generally discouraged, but aside from the blur (not a mark on the lens, but the water evaporating as it fell such was the heat), we got a truly beautiful image of the falls, town and the fortress capping it off.
That night, we had a pizza in the town, before making our way back home via the winding network of paths and settled in for the night.
Day 13: Leaving Jajce, vowing to come back again as we did at every place we stayed during our trip, we set off for the Croatian border and our final night. Our destination was Trogir, just up the coast from Split and a stones throw from the airport. The drive was simple, and the roads connecting Croatia and Bosnia are clearly getting a better investment than the others we had seen during our stay. We went across the border pretty much instantly, and within a couple of hours were parked up in Trogir. Somehow Trogir was even warmer than Jajce, despite being on the coast. After finding our accommodation, we ventured out to explore the streets before having a special lunch to celebrate Natasha’s birthday, and to have some fresh fish for the first time in two weeks! Afterwards, we went to Fortress Kamerlengo on the shore and got some pictures of the town before sunset, and settled down on the waterfront to have some drinks.
Looking down on Trogir at dusk from the top of the fortress
That night we were treated to another thunderstorm, rolling thunder at 5am, and into the next morning as we drove to return the rental car and go to Split Airport (which is far too small for the number of people and flights!) to return to Luton.
“Is Bosnia cheap?”
Yes. Very. In comparison to the UK, prices are significantly lower, though so are the wages with the legal minimum wage being little more than 1 Euro per hour. Fuel is the only thing we bought that was relatively comparable, around £1.10 per litre compared to £1.25 at home, but the cost of almost everything else is cheaper. Food in restaurants is a lot, and the quality better, than at home, alcohol (around £1.20 for 2 litres of beer) and cigarettes (around £1.50 for a pack of 20) give an indication of the value for money. Also, outside of tourist trap areas, water is as good as free and springs and tap water is safe to drink. Red Bull was the only thing we saw that didn’t translate, with restaurants selling a can for around £2.50, around double the price of the UK. We didn’t work that one out. Entry fees to museums, Sarajevo zoo and other monuments generally cost no more than 5 Euro’s per person, and in most cases were 2 KM (around 90p) with further discounts for students and children. Tipping is not included in bills, and at least 10-15% should be given, especially given the low wages.
Bosnia-Herzegovina is a beautiful country, and we said ‘we need longer here’ or ‘we need to come back’ at literally every stop we made. With its beauty is an incredible history which makes every stop something of a museum. Although some of its ‘history’ is still raw and evidence of the damage done is still visible, the people are friendly and more than happy to discuss it. With that, everyone seems to have a political opinion, understandably if they lived through it, but are also adamant that they don’t want there to be any division between nationalities and ethnicity, and that people can’t tell the difference between each other unless they know a name, or some background.
As far as Bosnia-Herzegovina goes, it has a long way to work towards being a Croatian level of tourism but it has the essentials, it just needs the infrastructure. What the country went through during the 90’s war, only ending 22 years ago, was on a par with the holocaust and Nazi atrocities across Europe in the 40’s, so whilst the Bosnian mentality may be to work, build and share what they love, it will understandably take more time.
Who knows what the future holds for Bosnia-Herzegovina, or for any other country for that matter. Will it join the European Union? Will it suffer more division? Will it become the next major European tourist destination? Will it overcome the political restrictions of its constitution? Only time will tell. But the Bosnian people, their hospitality and their love for their country which is endearing, without feelings nationalistic, all have the right ingredients to make for a wonderful holiday in 2018, let alone the future.
by Tom McBeth and Natasha Bryan