Thursday, August 6, 2009

波黑/Bosnia & Hercegovina(Part 4)

The second day, one of the girls, Rachel and I decided to let Majda bring us on a day trip around Mostar and its surrounding region. Of course, it is not for free, but the tour did not cost much and more importantly, it was just the two of us, so Majda was able to give us a very “localized” day tour. We first went up a hill overlooking Mostar. There used to be a big church here, but it was of course, reduced to rubble during the war. The locals tried to raise money to rebuild the church, but they just could not raise enough money, hence reconstruction plans were abandoned before it could even properly start. From the hill, you can get a good view of the city and it was hard not to notice how many buildings in ruins there are.
Next, Majda said we will be going for a picnic in the countryside. Since it was supposed to be a picnic, we, of course, need to have some food. Majda brought us to one of the local restaurants and told us that this restaurant served the best burek, a Balkan favorite, in the whole Mostar. Majda asked for permission from the restaurant and we were allowed to take a peek in the kitchen to see how burek as made. One can choose between burek with potato filling, the cheese or the meat type, with each piece of burek costing only 2.50 SGD. As the ones we bought were hot off the rack, we could hardly wait to sink teeth into it as the smell of the burek permeates the whole car. Majda带我们到莫斯塔尔邻近的一个小村子去,原来Majda一家在这里拥有个一度假屋,而屋子就面向一条小河。我们坐在河边,一边吃着美味的burek,一边享受着周边的美景。坐在那片宁静中,你很容易忘记这里在十多年前才刚刚经历战争,直到你回头望着身后的废墟时,你才会被提醒这个国家和人民但是所经历的痛苦。
Majda drove us to a village just outside Mostar. Turned out that Majda’s family actually has a summer house here, directly facing this little river that runs through the village. We sat on the river bank, slowly munching on our bureks while admiring the beautiful scenery at the same time. Sitting in that peaceful surroundings, with the quiet only broken by the chirps of the birds, it is really hard to imagine that this country was in turmoil just less than 20 years ago. But the moment you turn your back against the river, the house in ruins right in front of you reminds one never to take peace for granted.
After the enjoyable picnic, we then headed for another village. On the way there, we stopped by a small cemetery. The cemetery was not that big, but there was a memorial dedicated to those who perished in the war. On close examination, you will find that on the stones where the names of victims were carved, there were some where their dates of birth were listed, but not their dates of death. Majda explained that these were people who had perished in the war, but because their bodies were never found, nobody was sure when they had died, hence, they had to leave the dates blank.
The village that we went to is quite a popular destination for locals as there is a beautiful river running through the village and the surrounding region was quite scenic and peaceful. In fact, we saw a few groups of students on a day excursion to the village. When the kids saw us, they were really excited. They were especially fascinated with this Asian since they hardly get to meet one, and I was bombarded with questions and requests for photographs. 这里吸引游客的另一个理由是,这儿有个拥有400年历史的土尔其屋。这个屋子曾是当地回教徒聚集念经的地方,因为四周被高山围绕着,当年塞尔维亚人轰炸这一带时,这个土尔其屋丝毫不损,因此现在你看到的一切和400年前的一样。因为被回教徒视为神圣地,进入里头参观的人必须依照回教礼仪,穿着得保守,女生则必须裹着头巾。如果事先没有准备,不必担心,你可以向负责人借个头巾。
The main attraction in this village is this Turkish house which is 400 years old. This Turkish house has always served as a place of meditation for the locals. Due to the fact that it was surrounded by high mountains, this Turkish house was able to escape damage during heavy bombing by the Serbs. Since it is considered a holy site by the locals, visitors have to observe Muslim customs and dress conservatively and put on a headscarf prior to entering it. If you do not have a headscarf with you, do not worry. You can get one at the reception for free.
After the tour of the Turkish house, we sat down for afternoon tea. Remember I said that Bosnians love their coffee? Drinking coffee is actually an art here. One does not down coffee the normal way here. Coffee is served in tiny pots here. Along with your little pot of coffee, which is served with a thick layer of foam (only then is it considered good coffee!), you will get a tiny teacup, two cubes of sugar, a sweet dessert and a glass of water. To start, you first dip a cube of sugar into the coffee. Next, hold the sugar in your mouth. Then take a sip of coffee, making sure the sugar dissolves before swallowing the coffee. This is the true Bosnian way of drinking coffee.
After the tour ended, we walked around the parts of the town outside Old Town. On one of the main street, you will notice a lot more ruined buildings than other parts of the town. This was where the frontline of the city was during the war. Buildings on this stretch of road were heavily shelled, including schools. 这和莫斯塔尔的新镇形成了很大的对比,在这里你可以看到新颖的咖啡座,时髦的购物中心和超市。原本以为莫斯塔尔是个没有太多人的小镇,后来才发现并不是如此,原来当地人都不到古镇去,而是全都聚集在新镇那里喝咖啡和购物。
This is a huge contrast to the new part of the town where you hardly see any ruined buildings. Here you find modern shopping malls, albeit a bit smaller than those you will find in huge, modern cities. And of course, there are huge supermarkets and up-market cafes and restaurants too. Here is where the huge majority of the locals hang out.
Other than its history and beautiful scenery, the other thing about Bosnia and Hercegovina that appealed to me is its cost of living. For just 10 Euros (20 SGD), you will be able to find a bed in a hostel, sometimes with breakfast thrown in. As for food, a mere 1.50 Euros (3 SGD) can buy you a chicken fillet, complete with fries, salad and a drink. Compared to the other Eastern European countries, Bosnia & Hercegovina is much easier on the pockets. So, if you are looking for the Balkan experience, then come to this lovely country!

波黑/Bosnia & Hercegovina(Part 3)

From Sarajevo I headed down south to Mostar, which is only a three hours bus ride away. Mostar is not exactly a big city, but nonetheless, it is quite a popular tourist destination because of its famous bridge and Old Town. The guest house I chose was a small family run guesthouse, which even provides free pickups from the bus or train station. I was greeted on arrival by owner Majda, who was a nice and friendly lady. Majda’s family was one of those badly affected by the war. She had to seek refuge in London, her brother ended up in Switzerland and her parents were only accepted as refugees by Norway. Years after the war ended, Majda and her family came home to find that their home has been taken over by others. It took a long court case but they finally got their home back and they then convert it into a guest house. Now you cannot see any sign of the war in the house. Instead the whole house exudes a homely feel and guests get to use the balcony, washing machines and even the kitchen freely. I stayed there for two nights and on both nights ended up whipping a big meal for Majda and the other guests.
This being the low season, there was hardly any tourists. In fact, there was just me and two other girls staying in the guest house. Naturally, the old town was pretty much dead. Although the shops and restaurants are all open, all you can see are a handful of tourists and bored looking shopkeepers. But for me, a deserted Old Town holds more charm, especially when night falls.
This is the famous bridge that I’d mentioned earlier, i.e. Stari Most, the main star of Mostar. Actually the bridge you are looking at right now is not the original one. The original one was built hundreds of years ago but got bombed to bits during the war. When the war was over, local authorities decide to rebuild the bridge. Using blueprints of the original bridge, with the remains of the old bridge fished out of the river, and following the methods used 400 years ago, the Mostar Bridge was painstakingly restored. The result? A exact replica of the old bridge, albeit a couple of metres lower than the original one. This bridge may look ordinary in design, but it is famous because of its height. During summer, local young men will challenged each other to plunge into the waters 21m down. Some tourists even pay the young men to take the 30m plunge just so that they can get a good picture on their cameras.