Normally, we go back to the UK for a few weeks during the summer, to catch up with family and friends. But this will be our last full summer in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as I’m due to leave in August next year. So this year, we decided to spend some time discovering some new parts of this wonderful country, and revisiting some old favourites.
In June, we spent a few days in Una Sana canton. On the way, we stopped off at the historic town of Jajce. It is one of my favourite places in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The former capital of the independent kingdom of Bosnia, its magnificent mediaeval fortress was the residence of the last Bosnian King, Stjepan Tomašević.
Today, Jajce is equally famous for its beautiful waterfall, where the Pliva river meets the Vrbas, and as the host of the second AVNOJ convention, on 29 November 1943, where the decision was made to establish a federal Yugoslavia. We spent the night in a vikendica (weekend cottage), watching the fireflies dance on the shores of Lake Pliva.
We then headed north, to discover the jewel that is the Una National Park. Thanks to the brilliant team at Kiro Rafting, all five of us – even my one-year-old daughter – were able to go rafting and swimming in the vivid green waters of the Una, perhaps the most beautiful river I have ever seen. The Romans were right to call it “The One”. We had the most lovely family time, camping on the bank of a stream and exploring the area – including the mighty Štrbački Buk waterfall.
I took some more time off work last week. We had a list of places that we wanted to go and see. First of all, we revisited Treskavica mountain. We had climbed it before, but this time we got a lift half way up in a 4×4 Lada – an experience in itself – so we had more time to explore the top. We trekked around four of its lakes, and even swam in one of them.
The next day, the whole family were invited to Jablaničko Lake with our friends, Amel and Arijana Mekić, and their daughter Tajra. We had a wonderful time, catching frogs and swimming in the lake off a boat. We weren’t deterred by the fact that we were sharing the lake with some pretty impressive water snakes (I was assured they aren’t poisonous)! As we have found so often in BiH, our hosts’ generosity knew no bounds. We completed the experience by barbequing a whole roast lamb. Balkan heaven!
Much of the rest of the week was spent in and around Sarajevo. It involved a lot of ice creams in Baščaršija, and I succeeded in my main aim of the week, which was to take the stabilisers off my two eldest children’s bicycles. We also managed to climb to the summit of Trebević mountain, with our three-legged Yorkshire Terrier in tow, and the whole family went for a picnic on top of Čavljak.
The final outing was to Višegrad, to see Ivo Andrić’s famous Bridge over the Drina. It was a beautiful drive, first across the Romanija plateau and then southward through the magnificent river gorges. The bridge itself didn’t disappoint, its beauty a reminder of the rich and sometimes tragic history of this country.
Unfortunately, BiH doesn’t always make the best use of what it has got. The roads are the most obvious problem. Earlier this year, we drove from BiH to Greece, through Montenegro and Albania, and returned via Macedonia and Serbia. On the basis of this not-very-scientific 2,500 km study tour, I can report that BiH has the most beautiful scenery but, by miles, the worst roads in the region. In every country we visited except BiH, we saw major construction projects underway. I find it impossible to understand how politicians here can’t even agree to improve the roads.
One thing I have noticed is that people here seem surprised when we tell them that we have stayed here for our holidays. I can’t think why. We have so enjoyed the time we have spent exploring Bosnia and Herzegovina. It never ceases to amaze me how, around almost every corner, there is a fortress, a monastery or a mosque to explore, or spectacular mountains, lakes and rivers to enjoy. Travelling around has been a reminder of the huge potential of this country and the open generosity of its people. After a frustrating few months, it’s good to be reminded what we’re working for.