Week 8: July 16-22

Wanderlust: Mostar

Wednesday, July 16

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I left work around 1:30pm with plans to catch the 2:30 bus to Mostar. When I arrived at the station around 2:15, first I went to the information desk at the train station to see when the next train would be leaving. The train is cheaper and more comfortable than the bus but it only leaves at 7am and 7pm. I bought my bus ticket, headed through the gates, and boarded the waiting bus. Still tired from my previous weekend of festivities, I fell asleep as soon as we left the station. I woke up an hour later to find the bus full. A tall Bosnian man had sat next to me and he tried his best to keep his long limbs to himself but he inevitably bumped me when retrieving his newspapers from his bag. On the other commercial bus lines, the radio was usually played, but on this trip, the driver had a CD of some traditional music. The rhythm was similar to a reggaeton beat which actually made it difficult to sleep because it was quite lively. We pulled into the Mostar bus station at about 5pm. I had to decline several hotel offers on my way to the water fountain, and then back again on my way out of the station.

I initially walked to the wrong hostel because I was in a rush and didn’t check my map key, but I easily found my way back to the correct one. I was staying in the Hostel Backpackers and it was painted bright green on the outside. image source
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The hallway leading up to the lobby/lounge was painted light blue and covered with guests’ graffiti and reviews of the hostel.
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Behind the front desk the wall had a large map of the world. The woman here is Irma, one of the employees that works the day shift.
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Since I had reserved my four nights earlier that day online, I was told I would only pay for the first three nights and get the fourth night free. The cost for the dorm rooms was ten euros a night, so I was already getting a good deal. The mother of the owner only spoke Italian and Bosnian, but she made me a cup of coffee and let me relax in the lounge area. I sat next to Madison, a girl from Colorado who was leaving the next day. When the owner Ermin returned, he showed me to my room. I followed him up a brightly painted staircase to the third floor.
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The room I had booked had five beds, but no one else had reserved them, so I had the room to myself.
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There were two bathrooms on the third floor and one bathroom on the second floor. All of the bathrooms were easily identified by their comic book wallpapering.
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The hostel was a converted nightclub and although Ermin had replaced most of the mirrored walls, the bar was still there and was currently being used to store linens.
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The hostel was located on one of the main streets in the old part of the city and the views from my window were great.
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After settling in, I headed out for the night. Since this hostel was open 24/7, I was able to leave my bag in my locked room and did not need a locker like some other hostels. Even with a map, it took me a few tried to correctly navigate the small city streets to the location of the first show. The Wednesday night show was a free preview of the fun to come. It was held outside of the OKC Abrašević. image source
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The festival was kicked off by a performance by a Mostar Rock School student band called Birds of Beer. The guitar player surprised me with some great solos and the female singer belted out a Janis Joplin style cover of Ball ‘n’ Chain. This got the crowd pumped up and the air was buzzing with excitement when it was time for the next band: Innes Sibun and Band. image source
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He was an old school rocker with tight pants, headbanger hair, and an attitude to match. He played long solos while roaming the stage and at one point he jumped down right in front of me and continued to play his solo. The very drunk fan with the ponytail took this opportunity to join Innes and he played the air guitar next to him, somehow managing not to spill any beer on him. Innes did not miss a note and he climbed back on stage to continue his solo. image source
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As the night went on, Innes got very sweaty from all of his exertion. About halfway through his set, he brought out Coco Montoya, who was scheduled to play the next night, to play a song with him. They played an old song by one of my favorite blues artists, Albert King, called As the Years Go Passing By. Albert King had been the main influence for Coco Montoya to play the blues:

“Then one day I went to a concert featuring Creedence Clearwater and Iron Butterfly. Albert King played between the two groups and I had never heard of him. Boy, after he got done playing, that changed everything. That revolutionized my whole life and showed me what music and guitar playing really were about. I knew that was what I wanted to do.”

They played riffs back and forth, like a rap-battle but with guitars. Throughout the entirety of the performance, Innes broke his guitar strings about four times. Each time he would have a sound guy run up, hand him his back-up guitar and he would continue to play. They would restring his main guitar and give it back to him at his earliest convenience. The show went on until 1am with solos from all members of the band.

I walked back to the hostel in the warm summer night, carrying the T-shirt I had bought at the concert. When I arrived back, Ermin asked me where I had been and how the show was. He told me about a rock pub called Black Dog Pub owned by a man from Seattle, Washington. I made a mental note to check it out and went to bed, exhausted.

Thursday, July 17

I woke up around 9:30 on Thursday and went down to the lounge to ask Irma about the tours that the hostel offered. She told me about the different places they visited but since a large group had gone the day before there would not be one on Thursday. She assured me there would be one on Friday and made me a cup of coffee. I headed out into the bright morning sun to see the local sights. First, some breakfast.
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I went to the Eko-Eli Pekara to grab a quick pita. I got the cheese pita and it was piping hot, right off of the grill. This bakery cooked the pitas as large (2ft in diameter) spirals and would cut off a slice for each portion.
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I ate my delicious pita sitting in the shade. It was early but it was already starting to get quite hot. Mostar is similar to Sarajevo in the juxtaposition of old and new.
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I set out towards the Muzej Hercegovine and snapped some pictures along the way.
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This cafe courtyard had a fountain and some busts.
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Old mosques dotted the streets.
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I turned up a wide set of stairs and found the museum. The door was closed but the sign outside said that they were open, so I headed in. The door jingled when I opened it and a woman came out of the back office. The ticket was 5km. She took me into the museum and turned on the short film.
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The movie was about the cultural importance, destruction, and reconstruction of the Stari Most. I had the whole small theater to myself, and in fact the entire museum to myself. After the movie was finished, I headed upstairs to the main exhibits, passing some small displays in my way. They had one traditional Ottoman-Bosnian room, one tradition Hercegovian village room, and a room dedicated to Yugoslavia and the beloved Tito.
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The Bosnian room had a small carved table in the middle surrounded by similarly carved stools. There were examples of the clothing, dishes, and decorations around the walls.
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They even had a hand-writted copy of the Koran.
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The village room was about the same size. They had a butter churn, hemp processing tools, and traditional cookware.
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The Yugoslavia room was the smallest. One side was dedicated to Tito, who I am posing with, and the other side had information about Džemal Bijedić, the prime minister of Yugoslavia. The museum was small but very interesting.
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Mostar is also surrounded by mountains like Sarajevo. I went back to the Stari Most.
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From the top of the bridge I could see how deep the water was for the divers to jump into.
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Here are two bridge-jumpers resting in the shade before they go back out to ask for monetary incentives.
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Here is a jumper trying to gather a crowd, balancing precariously on the outside of the bridge fence.
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The hot weather brought out even the smallest of sunbathers.
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Sitting by the water was cooler and many of the tourists and locals braved the icy waters for some relief from the blazing sun.
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I joined them, taking off my shoes and sticking my toes in the clear water.
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The calm shallows on the edge of the river were home to a small school of fish. I took a nap in the hostel to escape the smothering afternoon heat and went back out in the evening. I went first to the water to cool off from the short walk. Upon closer inspection, I found a “nest” of eggs stuck to some rocks and plants at the edge of the river.
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There was a small improvised diving board on the river for less adventurous jumpers to try. It was still a long way down to the water.
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For dinner, I went to a restaurant called Hindin Han. I sat outdoors along a smaller river that fed into the Neretva. It was quite and peaceful and it was starting to finally cool down. On a suggestion from my guidebook, I decided to try the stuffed squid.
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They were delicious, fresh off the grill, and filled with gooey cheese. When I had finished eating, I headed over to the Crooked bridge to check out the Black Dog Pub.
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I arrived at the pub around 7pm, just as the sun was slipping behind the surrounding hills.
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First I tried the Oldbridz pale ale.
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Oldbridz is a local brewery. I got a seat outside by the water and slowly sipped my drink.
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From the terrace nook I had a great view of the Crooked Bridge. When I finished my first beer, I still had an hour before I wanted to walk over to the second night of shows, so I ordered a second one.
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This time I tried the Oldbridz Red Ale, which was quite good. I found a small flyer about the brewing company at the bar and I got a chuckle out of “the red color makes this one popular with the ladies”. Sitting next the water had its disadvantages and my legs were getting bitten by mosquitoes. I headed inside to finish my beer on one of the comfy looking couches in the corner.
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The ceiling was covered in flags from all over the world. There was a motorcycle in one corner. The decorations ranged from well-loved books to licence plates to a framed, rusty piece of barbed wire from a politically motivated fence across southern Asia. When the Ramadan firework was set off at 8:38, I left the pub and slowly walked across the city to the Pavarotti Music Center where the second night of shows would be held. I had my ticket barcode scanned and walked through the bar to the interior courtyard. The show was scheduled to start at 9pm, but when I walked in at 8:50, the first performer, Keegan McInroe, was already more than halfway through his set. No one else got the memo, so the place was almost empty.
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I took advantage of this and stood right up near the front, I didn’t need a table to set my nonexistent drink on. He was taking a quick break in between songs when he looked straight at me and said, “Nice Grateful Dead shirt, man. They were the reason I started playing when I heard their American Beauty album.” I gave him a double thumbs up, fully aware that I was not loud enough to respond verbally. He continued to play and even got the keyboard player from the next band to join him for a song. After he was finished, it was time for Vjeka and Electric Blues Project.
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She was a very talented singer, and her band was also very good. The guitarist used a lot of different effects and experimented with a lot of different sounds. As they were playing a lot of professional photographers arrived, but they were not taking pictures, they were waiting for Coco Montoya.
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The venue was full by the time it was Coco’s turn to play.
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He started out a little awkwardly, he plays the guitar left-handed, just like Albert King. After a few songs, he started to get into his groove and looked much more relaxed.
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He nailed every note and was having fun, moving around the stage, and engaging the audience. Luckily for me, where I happened to be standing was in front of the clear area of the stage. When he would come forward to do his solos, he would stand right in front of me and rock out!
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Each of his band members was similarly talented and they had comparable solos of their own, albeit much less frequently.
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After they finished their set, I went to seek out Keegan McInroe, to ask him about the Grateful Dead. I found him sitting in the bar area talking to the owner of the Black Dog Pub. When they were finished, I approached him. He is from Texas, so communication was not an issue. He told me about a trip through Croatia he took with his mother. They ended up in a small music store and the owner asked him to sign a book full of musicians signatures. On the first page was the signature of Jerry Garcia (the lead singer of the Grateful Dead) from the year that Keegan was born. Since he was staying around Mostar for the rest of the Festival, he had been asked to open on Friday and Saturday for the other bands that would be playing. He told me that he would play a Grateful Dead song for me each night since they had been so influential for him. After speaking with him, I went back out to the courtyard to enjoy the Coco Montoya encore.

When I got home from the shows, I was surprised to find a man sitting in my room. He was from Mexico and had just arrived in Mostar that day. He was interested in seeing some of the surrounding cities. I told him about the tours that the hostel offered and then we both went to bed.

Friday, July 18

I woke up around 9:30 on Friday and went down to have a coffee in the lounge. My roommate soon followed and he asked Irma about the tours and opportunities for fly fishing. After Irma contacted Ermin, she said that he could take us on a tour later that morning. I ran down to the pekara, and while I was waiting, they cut off a portion of the sirnica pita for me, remembering my order from the previous morning. While I was sitting in the lounge waiting for the tour, a girl with a shaved head walked in. She was from Nebraska and came to Mostar every summer to visit her grandparents. When Ermin was ready to go, I grabbed my water bottle, camera, and sunglasses and we headed out to his car. There was a man from Belgrade that had decided to return and stay in the hostel to learn English from the employees and he joined us on the tour so he could listen to Ermin speak English to us. The four of us first drove to Blagaj.
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Blagaj is a small town with a long history. On the cliff, just to the left of main rock in this picture are the ruins of the Old Blagaj Fort. Ermin told us about how the prince took the kingdom from his father with a small army by giving each soldier multiple torches so that his forces looked more numerous.
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Under the rocky overhang, is a small cave, inside of this cave is the spring of the river Buna. Next to the cave is the Blagaj Tekija, a Dervish monastery that was built around 1520.
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The water was cool, clean, and potable. There were a few small boats and they were offering rides into the cave. The other groups that were there were from other hostels and Ermin knew the tour guides.
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Next we drove to Počitelj, a walled city that was built in the fourteenth century and remains relatively unchanged today.
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The city was a target of attacks by the Croatian forces in 1993 and much of the art and architecture was destroyed. This mosque was rebuilt and outside they have a small display of some of the original stones from the previous mosque.
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We walked up through the ruins. It was very hot in the early afternoon sun.
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We finally made it to the top of the tower that stands above Počitelj. This man here is Ermin.
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From the tower we could see the whole city next to the large river. We stopped at the cafe for an iced coffee before continuing on our way. Next stop: Kravice Waterfalls.
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In the past few years, the waterfalls have become increasingly more touristy and well known. We sat in the shade of the bar and enjoyed the cool mist from the falls while the Mexican went swimming. I had not brought my bathing suit to Mostar. The Mexican was determined to go to Međugorje, a small town dedicated to the 1981 report of sightings of the Virgin Mary. On our way we stopped at the Herzeg Ethno Village of Međugorje. image source
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This unique resort is its own little village complete with shops, ponds, and a park. When we made it to Međugorje, the man from Mexico decided he wanted to stay for a few hours and offered to take the bus back, so we drove back up to Mostar. After the long day in the sun I was exhausted, so I took a nap to prepare for the third night of the festival.

Tonight the shows were held in the Kantarevac, a converted sports arena behind the Gimnazija. It was a beautiful night and the sun was setting as I set out across the city.
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I was unsure of exactly how to get there, but luckily right as I was walking down the block, Keegan McIroe started his set, so I followed the sound to the gates.
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Just as before, the venue was practically empty when I arrived and I got a good, front row spot to enjoy the music. After a few songs Keegan played [Black Peter](www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ka6yhEUyos), a song from the Grateful Dead album Workingman’s Dead, which is one of the few Dead albums that I own. After that song, he brought out the lead singer of Texas Flood, who were scheduled to play next.
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They sang a duet together and then Keegan finished his set.
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Texas Flood is named after one of my favorite songs written by Stevie Ray Vaughn. The band was very high energy and moved around the stage a lot, mixing different covers together and adding their own twists to blues classics.
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The guitarist and bassist had matching guitars and good chemistry. image source
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Next up was The Vlatko Stefanovski Trio. Vlatko Stefanovski is revered as one of the most talented guitar players in the Balkans.
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I was right up in the front against the barrier for his performance. The mostly instrumental music was easy to dance to and he had the whole crowd moving. All that dancing tired me out and I moved to the bleachers in the back for the subsequent performers.
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The headliner for Friday night was Eric Sardinas and Big Motor. He played heavy southern blues and the crowd loved it.
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About three quarters through his set, he left the stage and Big Motor (his bassist and drummer) held their own for a good ten minutes before he returned. After they had finished playing, I found Keegan and thanked him for the song before they played their encore. There were supposed to be after parties at the participating rock bars in the area. I swung by the Black Dog Pub, but it looked more like a few small groups talking among themselves so I headed back to the hostel. When I got back, Ermin and Dragan (the man from Belgrade) were still up so we sat outside and talked for an hour or so before going to bed.

Saturday, July 19

I slept in the next morning and when I got up, the Mexican had already left for the next leg of his trip. I had no plans for Saturday and drank my morning coffee with Irma in the lounge. I went out for a short walk and bought a few souvenirs in the early afternoon. When I came back the lounge was full of employees and their friends. Dragan, Ermin, and I watched Old Boy, a Spike Lee remake, while Irma and her friend played a board game with a guy from Belgium. Ermin wanted to see Tito and Tarantula play that night, but he had to work the hostel desk until midnight, so he was unable to join me. That night Keegan played [Sugaree](www.youtube.com/watch?v=GikGnKuehms) for me, a Jerry Garcia song off of his solo album. I thanked him for the song when he had finished his set and promised to see him play back in the United States sometime. The next band to take the stage was Switch, a Bosnian band from Banja Luka.

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They mostly played covers of American blues songs. After their set, I was already tired from standing and went to sit in the bleachers where I had a great view of the stage. image source
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Atomsko sklonište played next keeping the energy up and the audience on their feet.
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As a bass player myself, it was nice to see a bass playing lead singer for a change.
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After their set, I made my way over to the hot dog man. His grill was hanging from his shoulders with a splash guard to protect the customers from any sizzling drops of oil. His assistant would cut open the hot dog buns and place them on the grill to warm up. When a hot dog was ordered, he would quickly squirt some ketchup, mustard, or both onto a bun and pop a dog in while his assistant collected the money. The hot dog was fresh but the bun was a little tough. There were also small stands with vendors selling popcorn, almonds, and pumpkin seeds. The festival was sponsored by Ožujsko, a Croatian beer and they had tents around the perimeter selling beer and other drinks. image source
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The last performance was Tito and Taratula. I stayed in my bleacher seat, unwilling to join the drunk, bustling crowd at the front of the audience.
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Even though the band has been together for a long time and composed many songs for movies, they remain relatively unheard of in the United States. The drummer must have lost a bet because they sent him out first to sing the song [U.S.A.](www.youtube.com/watch?v=0a5BJxrarL0) by Dubioza Kolektiv, before the set began.

I am from Bosnia

Take me to America

Take me to United States

I will assimilate

Their music was good, mixing hard rock with strong blues undertones. This band had a female bassist, the first female non-singer I’d seen all weekend. Towards the end of their set, they invited members from the audience up onto the stage to dance with them as they continued to play.
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One man even joined Tito in singing the next verse of the song. The overall attitude of the festival was rather inclusive. The diversity of the audience, from punk kids with mohawks to old guys in cowboy hats to families with children reminded me of a Janis Joplin quote. I decided to add to the graffiti in the hostel and wrote this quote in between a large smoking duck (courtesy of Arthur from Belgium) and some smaller reviews.
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Music is purely for enjoyment and no one should be judged for what kind of music they listen to or how they enjoy it.

On my way back from the show I ran into Ermin. I sat and talked with him and his friends before heading back to the hostel. I had to get up early the next morning to catch the 7am train back to Sarajevo.

Sunday, July 20

I woke up at 6:00 on Sunday. I had packed most of my stuff the night before and only needed a few minutes to get ready before leaving. When I went down to checkout, both of the desk attendants were sleeping on the couches. I had paid in advance, so I let them sleep and left my keys on the counter. The 15 minute walk to the station was not bad because it was not too hot yet this early in the morning. I bought my train ticket and climbed the stairs to the platforms. A few minutes later the train rolled in and the small crowd boarded it. I helped the man behind me get his bike through the small doors onto the train. I found a window seat and went straight back to sleep. I awoke to the sound of a child screaming. This toddler screamed as loudly as she could for the entire second hour of the train ride. Unfortunately, the door between our seats and the closed booths where the family was sitting, was a swinging door and it would open and close depending on the acceleration of the train. All of the non-related passengers migrated from that part of the train to our seats in order to escape the nonstop screaming.

When we rolled into the Sarajevo station, I followed a woman with curly hair off of the train. As we were walking out, she turned to me and asked me if it was my first time in Sarajevo and if I needed any help getting around. She had seen me at the Blues Festival (and I was wearing the shirt I had bought there). We walked together and talked. She had done an IAESTE internship in Poland. When we got to the main street near my apartment, we went different directions. When I got back to the apartment, Paras unlocked the door for me. I unpacked, showered and did a load of laundry. I also finally had the time to finish unpacking from my trip to Serbia. I went to the grocery store and bought some food for the week. That evening I had two back-to-back Skype calls scheduled around a 9 hour time difference to California.

Monday, July 21

I showed up at work at my usual time and immediately transferred my pictures from my camera to the computer. It had begun to lightly rain by the time I was leaving and Mirela gave me a ride most of the way, dropping me off across from the US Embassy. That evening I had one more Skype call scheduled.

Tuesday, July 22

On Tuesday, I hopped on the #6 tram to take me to work. I had seen two #5 trams pass and I had a funny feeling because I had never seen a #5 before. When we got to the station where the #5 turns around, there were four trams already there! One was blocking the tracks and the other three were lined up in the circling loop. My tram turned onto the loop, opened its doors, and kicked us all off. I still needed to go two more stops to get to work so I walked the short distance. Unfortunately, I arrived at work after the cafe window was closed, so I was unable to get my morning kafa.

While I was settling into the office, Zoran helped me plan my transportation to Osijek. The only two bus options would either have me leaving at 1:30 in the morning or arriving at 8pm. With Zoran’s help, I found a 9:30am bus that would get me across the border to Slavonski Brod and then from there it would be a short, frequently occurring, bus ride to Osijek. I was travelling to Osijek for the IAESTE Croatia intern get-together. I had seen previous plans for a meetup in Poland but that would have been too far for me to attend. The IAESTE HR members had organized a weekend of events for us around the city. Since Ramadan was finishing on the 28, the following two weeks would be a holiday from work. I decided to take advantage of this by travelling from Osijek to Zagreb, then Budapest and Belgrade before returning to Sarajevo in time to pick up my mother from the airport on August 1st. I printed out some maps for the capital cities and began researching hostels, walking tours, and free events.

As I was about to leave work it started raining furiously, big fat drops were falling quickly. I stood on the stairs to the building and waited for the rain to lighten up. Once I saw my chance I darted out and started fast-walking to the tram station. The large, dark clouds were rumbling as they rolled down the hills into the valley. It started raining hard again while I was waiting for the light to change. I saw two women leaving the protection of the tram stop to run to a dry spot next to a building and I remembered that the tram was not running this far down the line. Amer had mentioned a bus that would be completing the services but I don’t usually take buses in Sarajevo and did not know where it would pick up. I walked as quickly as I could to the gas station down the street and stood under the roof, looking out at the pouring rain. I was soon joined by the women from the tram stop and a man with two children.

The rain was starting to slow down when my fellow refugees made their moves. I followed them back out and saw a big yellow bus ambling down the road towards us. It pulled over next to the gas station and we all hopped on. There was a temporary sign taped up inside the door “ILIDZA – NEDZARICI” telling the passengers that this bus was specifically for getting commuters around the tram construction. I sat down in the back, glad to be out of the rain. When we got to the Nedzarici tram station, everyone filed out and crossed the street like a migrating herd. To get onto the tram we either had to show our passes, or buy a ticket, just like the stop in Ilidza at the end of the line.

I made it back to the apartment without any problems and spent the evening planning out my trip to Zagreb. I reserved a bed in a hostel and drew a route on the map so that I could hit all of the open sights in one big loop. Unfortunately since I would be in Zagreb on Monday, all of the museums were closed, so I would be able to see most of the main sights in a short period of time.

In summary:

The people that I have met in the Balkans have been welcoming, generous, and very hospitable. They live in relative harmony and focus on enjoying each day instead of the political woes facing their countries. They are very inclusive and apologize often for speaking the native language even though I am the visitor. Even strangers, recognizing that I am a foreigner, offer me help instead of taking advantage of me. They want to share their life with me and show me how wonderful their cities are, despite all of the negative media attention in the past. Amer likened the American picture of the region to be similar to the violent conflict that is currently taking place in the Gaza and I had to agree with him. After the war, international reporting effectively stopped and most of the local news sites are in the local languages. The recent flooding brought reporting back to the area, but they focused on the tragedies. Calm, everyday life does not make good headlines.

I did, however, notice some underlying tension that has remained from the conflict. While in Novi Sad, Serbia, I befriended a group of Serbians from a small neighboring city. Our conversation touched on Muslims and I was surprised to hear one of them say, “I don’t like having to work with Muslims, I just don’t like them, you know?” This caught me off guard and I had to hold my tongue. While in Mostar talking with a man who I assume was Bosnian, he mentioned a few times that the Croatians only care about money and they are why the vendors are so aggressive and tourism along the coast is more expensive. I had to keep in mind that the war was in the lifetime of the people I was talking to and they had first hand experience of “ethnic cleansing”. Although the war may have been started by one ethnic group, each side retaliated with comparable brutality. That being said, most of the civilians were only victims and not directly involved in the fighting. As a young child, being targeted by the other ethnicities would leave an understandable mark of fear, distrust, and even hatred. Hopefully the new generation that did not experience the violence will be able to put their differences behind them and work together to stabilize the future of the Balkan countries.

While travelling around, I will not have access to a computer and therefor will not be able to upload pictures to the blog posts. Those that are interested in my experiences in Visoko, Osijek, Zagreb, Budapest, Belgrade, and then my trip through Croatia, Italy, and France can check back for regular updates without pictures. Once I return to Pittsburgh, I will be adding pictures and plan to have them all ready by the time classes start on the 25th.

 
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Week 4: June 19-25

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