Sunday, October 6, 2013

Bosnia: A Whole Lot of This and That

Up and down, up and down…..I don’t think I had one bit of flat terrain during the 700 kilometers I rode in Bosnia.  There are no major peaks but there is plenty of rolling hills, covered in deciduous trees (which were at their prime for colors).  It’s not wonder National Geographic voted Bosnia the best mountain biking destination in the world.  Interesting enough, I didn’t see one other sporty cyclist during my entire week of cycling except for two guys doing downhill.

I originally set off on a small detour after crossing the border to follow the river Una, which I had been told rivaled the Soca in Slovenia for beauty.  I was blown away by this river’s transparent water, but, really, it is just one of Bosnia’s many rivers.  Most of their roads are built alongside a river in order to traverse the flattest part of the country, which makes for beautiful scenery while riding.  As a result of all the rivers, there is also a huge rafting and kayaking tourism industry, although it was a little too chilly to try it out myself.

Yes that is right, “vulkanizers”.  So if you were thinking of moving over here and opening up a Volcanizer business you better think twice, although there could be a nitch for combining volcanizers and bike tires! Volcanizers in Bosnia are like banks in Spain, and 7 Eleven’s in New York City, they are on every street corner. 

A.K.A bakeries!  Pekara’s are even more common than volcanizers in Bosnia with a variety of sweet and savory delights, from pizza, corn bread, pretzels, jelly and chocolate filled donuts, croissants, filled croissants, burek, and more!  (most of which I tried!)  Best of all, the prices max out at 1 euro, in fact most goodies are between 0,50 and 0,75 cents, making them an affordable snack for cyclists!

Spinach-filled, meat-filled, cheese-filled, potato-filled, apple-filled….there are so many varieties of burek that you can never get tired of this delicious Bosnian pastry! Of course they say that meat is “official burek”, but you definitely can’t leave Bosnia without trying Burek! 

At first I thought I was seeing houses lining the hills riding down into Sarejevo. But when I looked more closely at hte sea of whiteness, I realized they were cemeteries with graves closely placed together.  There are cemeteries tucked into every nook and cranny in Sarajevo.  In fact, even the Olympic Stadium is now surrounded by graves.  A hundred thousand people were killed in Bosnia & Herzegovina during the war and it comes as no surprise when you see the graveyards, separated, of course, by religion, with the majority of the markers recording deaths between 1992 and 1995.

Mosques are everywhere! They can be easily spotted by the minarets that tower in the distant countryside and towns.  I must say the call to prayer can be rather soothing while pedaling and it keeps me on track with my daily schedule.  I didn’t actually see that many fully veiled women, but there plenty of head scarves.  I wish the Muslim religion would prohibited smoking, then all the cafes, restaurants, and bars wouldn’t wreak like smoke!
 War Scars

Almost 20 years have passed since the Yugoslavia war, but there are still frequent reminders that you are in a country where people and places were scared for life.  Besides the graves and cemeteries that I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of buildings that haven’t been rebuilt, and facades covered with bullet holes.  Not to mention the incredible effort made to rebuild some historical sights such as the Mostar bridge and old town Sarajevo.  You begin to ask the people about the war and you hear some pretty devastating stories. 

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