Another country in the Balkans I had heard nothing about before heading to. Coming off the overnight bus to Sarajevo after EXIT festival (refer to my Serbia post to find more about one of the best festivals I’ve ever been to) a little worse for wear I didn’t know what to expect. There are quite a few good hostels in Sarajevo, and the one I stayed at was a five minute walk from the centre of town, Harris Youth Hostel. If you read the reviews online at least 80% are complaining about the hill to get to the hostel. If the plan of your trip is to lie on the beach all day and do no exercise, then what are you doing in Bosnia? The hill is absolutely nothing and I enjoyed the tiny bit of exercise I was forced to do. What made it 110% worth it was when you did arrive at the hostel and went out onto the terrace you got such an incredible view of the whole city. Harris and the other staff who work there do everything they can to make sure you enjoy your stay. They are so overly friendly and welcoming and I loved the small, family-like atmosphere the hostel produced. Booking a bed at this hostel will cost you as little as $AUD15 (€10) for a shared dorm with comfortable beds and communal bathrooms, and the price also includes free towels and linen, free wifi and computer access as well as a great kitchen and common area.
If you like your coffee as much as I do you will fall in love with the Bosnian coffee, even more so when you see how they drink it. There is an art to how you pour and consume the coffee and make sure you ask the waiter to show you the correct way. You can go to any café and ask for a Bosnian coffee but I had one of my favourites, owned by such a gorgeous family. Cajdzinica Dzirlo – Tea House, which is located at Street Kovaci Cilcma 6, Sarajevo.
The tiny tea house was stocked with hundreds of teas, old and new travel books, colourful rugs, cushions on the ground and little bits and pieces. It’s owned by an incredible man with long white hair, Hasan, his beautiful wife and his two lovely boys who speak fluent English and help out a lot during the day. They all recognised me each morning I came down for my coffee and each evening when I arrived for my late night tea and I was always greeted with big smiles and hugs even though neither of the adults could speak very good English. If you’re in the mood for some authenticity please have your first Bosnian coffee at this café and definitely don’t make it your last.
Another great advantage of staying at Harris Youth Hostel is having the opportunity to be taken around Sarajevo for the day with Harris. A few friends and I jumped into his car for a six hour tour learning about the rich Bosnian history that I’m ashamed to say I knew nothing about. We were shown the ‘tunnels of life’, which the Bosnians used to smuggle in food and medical supplies as well as to try and escape during the 1991-1995 war. We were lucky enough to run up and down the old bobsled track used in the winter Olympics in 1984, and we were taken up to the top of a hill overlooking the beautiful city and down to the parliament house.
Lastly in Sarajevo I suggest you fill up your water bottle from the fountain in the middle of town, as it’s always cold and supposed to bring good luck – you can’t miss it, it’s huge and surrounding by pigeons!
One thing I adore is ĉevapi, don’t judge it until you’ve tried it. They are mini meat sausages and though they may not look scrumptious they sure do taste it and are found everywhere in the Balkans. Even being back home now I can say I miss them dearly and I was the odd girl who would demolish sixteen to eighteen ĉevapi in one go! 😉
After Sarajevo, I decided that my next adventure would be Mostar. If you’re in the mood for a home away from home and loving tender care you really must stay at Hostel Majdas. Majda takes care of everyone as if they’re her own and she is such a beautiful, kind and warm lady. Each night she prepares a little surprise such as Bosnian coffee or homemade soup. The shower heads are massive and I think I showered twice a day just for an excuse to have such amazing water pressure! If you’re wanting to party until the wee hours of the morning, you shouldn’t stay here as lights are out at midnight and every guest at the hostel yells goodnight to each other through the thin walls. The hostel has a large common room and outdoor area, free breakfast and wifi, a communal kitchen and a fabulous location. A bed in one of the dorm rooms will cost you $AUD34 (€23) a night, which is a little more than expected for Bosnia but I can’t recommend staying here enough!
Though Mostar is very small and you can see the whole city in a few hours, if you have the time I recommend staying at least two nights. Spend a day walking around the town talking with locals and seeing the little markets filled with clothes, jewellery and art. Grab yourself some ice cream and sit by the river at the bottom of the bridge waiting in hope for a local or even a daring tourist to jump off the 24 metre high bridge into the freezing cold crystal blue water. Before dark, climb up to one of the old sniper towers for a view of the beautiful city during the sunset.
Every two days Majda’s brother Bata takes a group from the hostel on a whole day tour – if you only have a limited time to stay in Mostar I suggest you email first and make sure you’re staying on the day the tour is on so you can sign up for it. Bata took thirteen of us on a journey in his darling van, Bella, that I will remember for the rest of my life. Blasting tunes down dirt roads we drove around Medjugorje, the third biggest catholic pilgrimage site in the world, through small villages and down mountains close to the border, while Bata told us stories about Bosnian history and some of his own experiences during the Bosnian War.
Next we had a couple of hours to spend at Kravice Waterfalls; as soon as you see it you will be lost for words. The waterfalls are absolutely breathtaking and we had the time to swim around and explore before having a delicious Bosnian feast. We got back in Bella and we were off to the old medieval town of Pocitelj, which had a castle, some towers and a fortress.
When Bata began the tours a few years ago, he started a tradition. At the end of every tour, he takes the group to a lovely elderly lady’s house and she serves Bosnian coffee, fruit, biscuits and homemade cake. The last stop on the tour is Blagaj, a 400 year-old Muslim holy house with the strongest source of drinkable water in Europe.
If you have a little more time like we did, hire a car and spend the day at Kravice Waterfalls, which is extremely hard to get to any other way. Spend the whole day climbing through rocks and finding hidden caves and go on long walks away from the waterfalls to see bright blue water and large trees that are perfect for climbing. If you still have the car for the day and want to see another great view, drive up to Cross Hill among the mountain goats and winding roads to see an even higher view of the entire city.
The best way to get to and from Bosnia is by bus as they have very efficient and cheap bus services. Belgrade to Sarajevo: €13 with Lasta bus. Novi Sad to Sarajevo: €11 with Lasta bus. Dubrovnik to Mostar: €14 with Eurolines.
Bosnia is such a lovely country and I left having had such an incredible experience. I think I had stayed a perfect amount of time and got to see a lot of what this country had to offer. The locals are so warm hearted and really want you to understand and appreciate the Bosnian culture. The two hostels I stayed at really enhanced my experience and I was recommended to stay at them both countless times. I am thrilled that I took other travellers’ advice and I really hope you choose to do the same. Exploring the Balkans is one of the best things a European backpacker can do!