Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
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Bosnia-Herzegovina is one of those countries that raised eyebrows whenever I told someone I was headed there. Those who had no idea where it was had a vague notion that it was dangerous; those who knew the country were under the impression that it was still at war.

Bosnia, as it is often called, does indeed have a recent history of war. Josip Broz Tito, President-for-Life of Yugoslavia, was the glue that held the former Yugoslav countries together. Within three years of his death in 1980, it had separated into six different republics, with boundaries loosely established according to ethnicity. The area where Slovenes lived became Slovenia. The lands that were home to Croats became Croatia. Serbia was populated by Serbs, Macedonia by Macedonians, Montenegro by Montengrins. The population of Bosnia-Herzegovina, however, was a mixture of Muslim Bosnians, Orthodox Serbians, and Catholic Croatians, and everyone seemed to want a piece of the Bosnian pie. When Serbians invaded Bosnia in 1991, Mostar found itself at the epicenter of the conflict.

View of the Old Town of Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina from the west side of the Neretva River

View of the Old Town of Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina from the west side of the Neretva River

Almir Taso, owner of Hercegovina Hostel, was 12 when the war broke out.  He remembers those horror-filled times vividly. Initially the Serbians invaded from the east. Bosnians and Croats, who had lived together peacefully in Mostar for generations, fought the Serbian forces, driving them into the mountains on the eastern side of the city. From this higher ground, Serbs relentlessly shelled the town, gradually reducing it to a pile of rubble.

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Stari Most, literally

Click on title of post to view photo in large format: Stari Most (Old Bridge in Bosnian), was built by the Ottomans in the 16th century and is considered to be one of the best examples of Islamic architecture in the Balkans. It was shelled to bits during the Bosnian War, but rebuilt to its original form after hostilities ceased. For generations, male teenagers were expected to jump from the bridge Read More

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Cobblestone streets on the western side of the Neretva River in Mostar. This former war-torn city has recovered to become one of the most attractive and popular tourist destinations in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Click on title of post to view photo in large format: Cobblestone streets of Mostar, on the western side of the Neretva River. This former war-torn city has recovered to become one of the most attractive and popular tourist destinations in the Bosnia-Herzegovina. The city was named after Read More

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Old town of Mostar, seen from the top of Stari Most, the famous arched stone bridge over the Neretva River

Click on title of post to view photo in large format: Old town of Mostar, seen from the top of Stari Most, the famous arched stone bridge over the Neretva River. This bridge became the dividing line during the Bosnian War, with Croatian Bosnians occupying land to the west of the bridge and Serbians occupying the mountaintops on the eastern flank of the city. Moslem Bosniaks, trapped in the small area of land on the eastern side of the river, suffered Read More

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My introduction to Budva, Montenegro was anything but auspicious. I chatted with the owner of my guest house as she checked me in, explaining that I’d been touring the ex-Yugoslavian countries all summer, perhaps with an eye to finding a place where I might establish a base in the future. “In that case, you’d have been better to visit the town of Bar in the south,” she commented wryly.

I’d originally planned to stay in Kotor Bay to the north, but so many travelers I’d met on the road had raved about Budva that I decided to make a brief stop in the city dubbed the Montenegrin Riviera. Later that evening I walked down to Stari Grad, the Old Town of Budva that is enclosed by thick stone walls. Following an inedible dinner at the Hong Kong Restaurant, I picked my way through the crazy maze of streets. Harsh light spilled from storefronts offering gaudy souvenirs and resort wear. The rubber hose of a sewage truck snaked through the reeking streets, emptying septic tanks. Except for the walls and turrets of the old fortification, the Old Town felt bereft of any historical significance.

One shop after another lined the streets inside the walls of Stari Grad (Old Town) in Budva, Montenegro

One shop after another lined the streets inside the walls of Stari Grad (Old Town) in Budva, Montenegro

Disappointed, I returned to my guest house to enjoy the lovely view of Budva Bay from my private balcony, but even that was soon spoiled. As darkness fell, the bah-boom, bah-boom of club music drifted up from the open-air nightclubs that line the shore. Luckily, my guest house had insulated windows and doors, or I wouldn’t have been able to sleep for the racket. Read More

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Sun worshipers flock to Pizana Beach on the shores of the Adriatic Sea in Budva, Montenegro. Though small, it is one of the more popular beaches, as it is wedged into a protected cove between the walls of the old city and Dukley Beach Club.

Click on title of post to view photo in large format: Sun worshipers flock to Pizana Beach in Budva, Montenegro. This popular beach on the shores of the Adriatic Sea is wedged into a protected cove between the walls of the old city and Dukley Beach Club, which has Read More